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 agricultural chemicals.

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.

Biotechnology timeline

See also: genetic engineering, GM food, biochemistry, molecular biology, intein bioreactor

copyright 2004