What is Biotechnology – Overview
Biotechnology is the technology that uses biology to create new organisms, methods and products to improve human health and society. Biotechnology, also called biotech, has existed since the time of the domestication of plants and animals and the discovery of fermentation.
History of Biotechnology
Bread and vaccines are the results of the earliest applications of biotechnology. However, the field has grown substantially over the last 100 years and today. Scientists are able to manipulate the bio-molecular processes and genetic structures of living organisms.
Modern biotechnology practices are derived from several different disciplines of science and technology, such as genomics, molecular biology, informatics, chemistry, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and bionics.
Advances in biotechnology have resulted in several innovations and groundbreaking discoveries in different fields, such as medicines and therapeutics, medical diagnostics, GMO (genetically modified organisms) and biofuel, to name a few.
Today’s biotechnology applications are mainly conducted through genetic engineering, which is called “recombinant DNA technology.” Genes are present in every cell in plants and animals and are designed to produce proteins. These proteins determine the characteristic of the organism.
Biotechnology helps to modify or interact with genes to strengthen or emphasize specific characteristics, which also helps to create an entirely new organism.
These genetically modified and new organisms are helpful and commonly applied to enhance crop yield or increase their resistance to drought. Genetic engineering has also enabled genetic modification and even the cloning of animals.
8 Types of Biotechnology
Biotechnology consists of several sub-disciplines that are classified according to their common applications and use.
These are the different types of biotechnology in use today:
1. Red Biotechnology
This sub-discipline of biotechnology involves a medical process, such as using stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues, grow and re-grow entire organs or use organisms to produce better medicinal drugs.
2. White/Gray Biotechnology
This type of biotechnology involves industrial processes, which can include creating new biofuels for vehicles or the development of new chemicals.
3. Green Biotechnology
This biotechnology type includes the use of its techniques in agricultural processes. This may involve producing disease-resistant animals and pest-resistant crops as well as discovering more eco-friendly agricultural practices.
4. Gold Biotechnology
This sub-discipline of biotechnology is also known as bioinformatics. It is a mix of biological processes and informatics. This type of biotechnology includes the methods that healthcare workers use to gather, store and analyze biological data to treat patients.
5. Blue Biotechnology
This type of biotechnology refers to processes in aquatic and marine environments, such as converting biomass into pharmaceuticals and fuels.
6. Yellow Biotechnology
This biotechnology sub-type involves processes that aid in enhancing food production. The most common applications of yellow biotechnology are fermentation for cheese and alcohol.
7. Violet Biotechnology
This sub-type of biotechnology relates to complying with laws and ethical standards regulating the field.
8. Dark Biotechnology
This sub-discipline of biotechnology involves the production of weapons or warfare.
Applications and Uses of Biotechnology
There are four main areas where the use and application of biotechnology are predominant – agriculture, industry, medicine and environment.
Let’s take a closer look at how biotechnology is used and applied in the four different fields:
Environmental Application of Biotechnology
Environmental biotechnology aims to develop sustainable environmental practices to reduce waste and pollution. Some of the most common uses and applications of biotechnology for the environment are:
- GMO Foods – Genetically modified crops tend to stay fresh longer and reduce food waste.
- Bioremediation – This involves mixing microorganisms at dumping sites to break down non-recyclable materials organically.
- Genetic Restoration – This technology helps to restore the population of endangered species of flora.
- Plastic-Eating Bacteria – This product of environmental biotechnology helps break down non-degradable waste, such as plastics, in water and soil.
- Phytoremediation – This involves using genetically modified organisms to purify soils that have heavy metals or other pollutants.
- Cover Crops – Corn is most commonly used as biofuel, which can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases when used.
Medical Application of Biotechnology
Medical biotechnology is also called bio-pharma. It aims to prevent and fight disease as well as improve healthcare technology. Biomedical research combined with biotechnology forms the basis of the modern pharmaceutical industry.
The most common uses and applications of biotechnology in the medical and pharmaceutical fields are:
- Developing antibiotics
- Stem cell technology helps replace/repair dead or defective cells
- Researching dangerous pathogens and developing effective antibodies against them
- Gene therapies to treat leukemia and similar diseases
- mRNA vaccine development
- developing monoclonal antibody treatments
- 3D printing organs
- Growing organs and bones in laboratories
Industrial Application of Biotechnology
Industrial application of biotechnology includes using microorganisms to produce improved industrial goods, such as:
- Using enzymes and microbes for fermentation to streamline chemical manufacturing, besides reducing operational costs and chemical emissions.
- Producing biodegradable textiles and garments from living organism protein, such as silk protein of spiders.
- Creating biofuels that use renewable crops to produce combustible fuel to replace conventional non-renewable fuel sources, such as oil and petroleum.
Agricultural Applications of Biotechnology
Agriculture applications of biotechnology involve genetically engineering plants and animals for improved agriculture, enhanced nutritional value of products and reduced food waste. Some of the most common uses of biotechnology in the agriculture industry are:
- Drought-resistant crops
- Biologically produced human and animal-friendly herbicides and pesticides
- Meat has grown in labs or using 3D printers
- Minimal space-resilient crop
- Selective breeding to produce bigger, healthier crops and livestock
- Nutrient supplementation to infuse food with additional nutrients and improve diets as well as medical treatments
Advantages of Biotechnology
Production using biotechnology has numerous varied advantages and provides solutions to critical problems. The main advantages of biotechnology are:
- Creating stronger, healthier and more sustainable food products
- Reducing waste and pollution to reverse catastrophic climate change
- Developing medicines that boost the health and longevity of people, animals and plants
- Treating diseases in children before birth by altering their genomes
- Cutting costs of pesticides while enhancing crop yield
As with any technology, there are certain drawbacks too. Biotechnology has been used in biological warfare to create pathogens and epidemics in conflict zones, which is entirely unethical. Besides this, bio-enhanced plans require more nutrients and drain the soil of its fertility quicker. Besides this, biotechnology products often cost more than conventional products and can potentially raise pricing structures in different industries.