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Biotechnology is technology based on biology, especially when used in
agriculture, food science, and medicine.
Of the many different definitions available the one formulated by the UN
"Convention on Biological Diversity" is the most all encompassing:
"Biotechnology is any technological application that uses biological
systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify
products or processes for specific use."
One section of biotechnology is the directed use of organisms by humans for
production (beer, milk-products, skin). Naturally present bacteria are also
involved in the mining industry in bioleaching. Other uses of biotechnology
involve recycling, treatment of waste, cleaning up sites contaminated by
industrial activities (bioremediation) or production of biowar agents.
There are also applications of biotechnology that do not use living
organisms. An example are DNA chips used in genetics, or radioactive tracers
used in medicine.
Although biotechnology is publicly associated with cloning and genetic
engineering, the goal of biotechnology is to advance the tools of medicine
and solve problems related to the production of biologically derived
products, not the whimsical manipulation of life.
Today, biotechnology, or modern biotechnology, is often associated to the
use of genetically altered microorganisms such as E. coli or yeast for
producing substances like insulin or antibiotics. It can also refer to
transgenic animals or transgenic plants, such as Bt corn. Genetically
altered Mammalian cells, such as Chinese Hamster ovarian cells, are also
widely used to manufacture pharmaceuticals.
Sub-fields of biotechnology
There are number of jargon terms for sub-fields of biotechnology.
Red biotechnology is biotechnology applied to medical processes. An example
would include an organism designed to produce an antibiotic, or engineering
genetic cures to diseases through genomic manipulation.
White biotechnology, also known as grey biotechnology, is biotechnology
applied to industrial processes. An example would include an organism
designed to produce a useful chemical.
White biotechnology tends to consume less resources that traditional
processes when used to produce industrial goods.
Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An
example would include an organism designed to grow under specific
environmental conditions or in the presence (or absence) of certain
Green biotechnology tends to produce more environmentally friendly solutions
then traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this would include a
plant engineered to express a pesticide, thereby eliminating the need for
external application of pesticides.
The term blue biotechnology has also been used to describe the marine and
aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.
History of biotechnology
Here is a brief history of biotechnology:
* 8000BC collecting of seeds for replanting. Evidence that Babylonians,
Egyptians and Romans used selective breeding practices to improve
* 6000BC brewing beer, fermenting wine, baking bread with help of yeast
* 4000BC Chinese made yoghurt and cheese with lactic-acid-producing
* 1500 plant collecting around the world
* 1800 Nikolai I. Vavilov created comprehensive research on breeding
* 1880 microorganisms discovered
* 1856 Gregor Mendel started recombinant plant genetics
* 1919 Karl Ereky, a Hungarian engineer, first used the word
* 1980 modern biotech with recombinant DNA, mostly on best studied E.
coli bacteria to produce insulin and other medicins, in human form
(rather than before used animal insulins, to which about 5% of
diabetics are allergic)
* 1992 FDA approves of the first GM food from Calgene: "flavor saver"
* 2000 completion of Human Genome Project