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What is Biotechnology?

An Introduction to Modern Biotechnology

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What is Biotechnology

Biotechnology is most briefly defined as the art of utilizing living organisms and their products for the production of food, drink, medicine or for other benefits to the human race, or other animal species.

Agricultural Biotechnology

Technically speaking, humans have been making use of biotechnology since they discovered farming, with the planting of seeds to control plant growth and crop production. Animal breeding is also a form of biotechnology. More recently, cross-pollination of plants and cross-breeding of animals were macro-biological techniques in biotechnology, used to enhance product quality and/or meet specific requirements or standards.

Biotech in Everyday Life

The discovery of microorganisms and the subsequent burst of knowledge related to the causes of infectious diseases, antibiotics and immunizations could probably be counted among man’s most significant, life-altering discoveries. However, the most modern techniques in biotechnology owe their existence to the discovery of DNA and the protein products of genes, most importantly, enzymes. The discovery of the techniques essential for gene cloning allowed scientists to manipulate enzyme structure and function for specific purposes. Current scientific methods are more specific than historical techniques, as scientists now directly alter genetic material with atomic precision, using techniques otherwise known as recombinant DNA technology.

Industrial Biotechnology

As technology advances, the many roles biotech plays in our lives increases. Since George Washington Carver, scientists have been learning how to use biochemicals isolated from plants, to produce chemical products for everyday use around the house, the first "green biotech products". Since then, biotechnological advances can be found in nearly all sectors of industry. There are, of course, the obvious medical, pharmaceutical and food industries. Biotechnology is being used to determine cause and effect of various diseases and are used in the production of drugs.

Food Biotechnology

The production of foods is enhanced by biotechnological advances that improve crop yields, introduce in-situ insect resistance and provide new ways of food preservation. Other advances include packaging consisting of biomass plastics, or bioplastics, and built-in bioindicators for detecting contamination.

Environmental Biotechnology

In the environmental sector, biotech has played a role in remediation of contaminated land, water and air, pest control, treatment of industrial effluents and emissions, and acid mine drainage. Bioremediation and phytoremediation are used to restore brownfields for redevelopment.

Biotechnology in Space

Biotechnology has been a powerful tool for studying how organisms respond to low gravity and other environmental conditions found in outer space. Scientists have found that microorganisms exhibit genetic changes in orbit. Biotech is also being applied to develop horticultural techniques that might someday be used on the space station or on another planet.

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