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What is Biotechnology?

Pamela Peters, from Biotechnology: A Guide To Genetic Engineering. Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Biotechnology in one form or another has flourished since

prehistoric times. When the first human beings realized that they
could plant their own crops and breed their own animals, they
learned to use biotechnology. The discovery that fruit juices
fermented into wine, or that milk could be converted into cheese or
yogurt, or that beer could be made by fermenting solutions of malt
and hops began the study of biotechnology. When the first bakers
found that they could make a soft, spongy bread rather than a firm,
thin cracker, they were acting as fledgling biotechnologists. The first
animal breeders, realizing that different physical traits could be
either magnified or lost by mating appropriate pairs of animals,
engaged in the manipulations of biotechnology.

What then is biotechnology? The term brings to mind many different

things. Some think of developing new types of animals. Others
dream of almost unlimited sources of human therapeutic drugs. Still others envision the
possibility of growing crops that are more nutritious and naturally pest-resistant to feed a rapidly
growing world population. This question elicits almost as many first-thought responses as there
are people to whom the question can be posed.

In its purest form, the term "biotechnology" refers to the use of living organisms or their
products to modify human health and the human environment. Prehistoric biotechnologists did
this as they used yeast cells to raise bread dough and to ferment alcoholic beverages, and
bacterial cells to make cheeses and yogurts and as they bred their strong, productive animals to
make even stronger and more productive offspring.

Throughout human history, we have learned a great deal about the

different organisms that our ancestors used so effectively. The
marked increase in our understanding of these organisms and their
cell products gains us the ability to control the many functions of
various cells and organisms. Using the techniques of gene splicing
and recombinant DNA technology, we can now actually combine the
genetic elements of two or more living cells. Functioning lengths of
DNA can be taken from one organism and placed into the cells of
another organism. As a result, for example, we can cause bacterial cells to produce human
molecules. Cows can produce more milk for the same amount of feed. And we can synthesize
therapeutic molecules that have never before existed.
Uses of Biotechnology

Biotechnology can be used for hundreds of things. It's already made it's impact on medicine, the
environment, edibles, clothing, agriculture...practically everything!

The manufacture of beer, cheese, cottage cheese, wine and bread all utilize biotechnology,

High Yileding Variety (HYV) seeds have been developed due to biotechnology. Also, with
newer discoveries in this field, better and more eco-friendly fertilizers, manures, pesticides,
weedicides and insecticides are being developed. Biotech could only be show us the way to a
new, renewable source of energy.

Genetically modified organisms can be used to control or cure certain diseases.

Note: There are comments associated with this question. See the discussion page to add to the

Use of Biotechnology in Agriculture

The development of Biotechnology has opened many vistas in the field bio-agricultural
and bio-medical sciences. The Department of Agriculture & Cooperation has appointed
a Task Force on Application of Biotechnology in Agriculture under Dr. M.S.
Swaminathan and the

1. Task Force has submitted its report in June, 2004. Full Report of the Task
Force is available in the DAC’s website ‘’.

The inter-ministerial consultations on the recommendations of the Task Force

have been finalized and report is being examined for final decision. The
Department of Agriculture and Cooperation is also placing its emphasis on the
following subjects.

2. Capacity building and training of manpower for post release monitoring:

The focus of strengthening capability till now has been on bio-safety and
environmental safety infrastructure before commercial release of GM crops. With
genetically modified cotton already released for commercial cultivation in the
country and more crops being in pipeline and the fact that trade in genetically
modified food grains will be increasing in future we would be required to deal with
GM seeds/crops on a much larger scale. This, inter-alia, calls for upgradation of
the post-release monitoring infrastructure which is the responsibility of
Department of Agriculture & Cooperation. In particular, there is a need for
capacity building for training of manpower in advance techniques of risk
assessment and management of GM crops particularly detection and analysis of
LMOs, inspection, monitoring handling of GMO material, quarantine, issues
relating to segregation, identity preservation and strengthening of institutions
addressing issues of certification. The training of extension personnel and
belonging to enforcement agencies like quality enforcement officials of
Department of Agriculture of States and personnel from other organizations like
Plant Quarantine and Custom officials as well as farmers will go a long way in
ensuring post release monitoring and bio-safety.

3. Quality Control of GM Seeds and Crops

The present Seed Act does not deal with the quality control of GM seeds as they
are generally not notified. It is hoped that the new Seeds Act will take care of this
issue however, action against spurious GM seeds can always be taken under the
Seeds Control Order and the EPA rules. As the GM seeds are very costly and
sometimes farmers have been cheated, there is a strong urgency to develop
protocol for determining the presence or absence of genes incorporated in the
cultivars. Similarly, the procedure for testing of GM Seeds in the laboratories as
well as in the fields is to be developed, strengthened and established with the
State Government infrastructure. Strengthening of Seed Testing Laboratories will
be undertaken in this context.

Biotechnology and Medicine

Wednesday June 11, 2008

Modern biotechnology is being used in many areas of medicine from making vaccines and drugs
to determining genetic origins of disease, producing organs for xenotransplant and developing
nanomedical diagnostic methods.

Biotechnology has been in existance for thousands of years, originating in food production, but
when was the first biotechnological application in medicine? The revolution began with the
advent of biologically-produced antibiotics and the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming
in 1929. Fleming observed that cultures of Staphylococcus aureus were killed when accidentally
contaminated with the fungus Penicillium notatum. Fleming published his work on the inhibiting
substance that was found in the cell-free culture media, after the fungal cells were removed.
Penicillin was not developed into a commercial product for therapeutic use until the 1940s. Prior
to this discovery, antimicrobial compounds were used to treat syphilis and other diseases, but
were manufactured chemically.

Use of biotechnology in reducing the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
A lot of debate is going on the overuse of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. They
become an environmental hazard because they undergo degradation by microorganisms and
ultraviolet light which releases toxic chemicals in the environment. Using biotechnology,
bacterial pesticides and viral pesticides are being developed which will help in reducing the use
of chemical pesticides. Several companies in USA like Monsanto, Mycogen, Ecogen, Repligen,
Zoecon etc are actively involved in the development of biological pesticides. The trials are going
on to use the genetically engineered live soil bacteria for coating seeds before planting. Another
method being tried is to kill the recombinant bacteria and apply them to the leaves of crop plants.
Both these approaches protect the toxin from degradation by microbes or ultraviolet rays once
applied to the crop plants.

The company Ecogen Inc. was involved in developing biological pesticides against the two
major crop pests budworm and ballworm by transferring a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt),
into either a naturally occurring soil bacterium or in to a strain of Pseudomonas. Bt insecticides
are already being marketed for past few years and in future these will be modified using genetic
engineering and will be used against a variety of insects.
Genetically engineered insect resistant plants have been successfully produced which will further
help in reducing the use of insecticides in the future.

The experiments are going on to develop environmentally safe herbicides. In order to use these
herbicides for crop protection programme, genetically engineered herbicide resistant plants have
been produced in a variety of crop plants. This will ensure the use of environmentally safer


Biofertilizers are also being used in place of chemical fertilizers to further reduce the
environmental hazards caused due to chemical fertilizers. The term biofertilizers is used to refer
to the nutrient inputs of biological origin to support plant growth which is generally achieved by
the addition of microbial inoculants as a source of biofertlizers. Biofertilizers broadly includes
the following categories:

A)Symbiotic nitrogen fixers- The diazotrophic microorganisms are the symbiotic nitrogen fixers
that serve as biofertilizers e.g. Rhizobium sp., Bradyrhizopium sp.

B) Asymbiotic nitrogen fixers- The asymbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria can directly convert the
gaseous nitrogen to nitrogen rich compounds. On the death of these nitrogen fixers, the soil
becomes enriched with nitrogenous compounds thereby serving as biofertilizers e.g. Azobacter
sp., Azospirillum sp.

The blue green algae, multiply in the water logging conditions and fixes the nitrogen. They
accumulate the biomass which helps in improving the physical properties of the soil. This is
useful for reclamation of alkaline soils besides providing partial tolerance to pesticides. The most
common blue green algae are Azobacter sp. and Azospirillum sp. Azolla, which is an aquatic
fern contains an endophytic cynobacterium Anabaena azollae in the leaf cavities providing
symbiotic relationship. Azolla with Anaebaena is useful as biofertilizer.

C) Phosphate solubilising bacteria- Some bacteria like Thiobacillus, Bacillus are capable of
converting non-available inorganic phosphorus present in the soil to organic or inorganic form of
phosphate. These bacteria can also produce siderophores, which chelates with iron, and makes it
unavailable to pathogenic bacteria. Siderophores are iron-binding low molecular weight (400-
1,000 Daltons) peptides synthesized by some soil bacteria.

D) Organic fertilizers- Certain types of organic wastes are used as fertilizers e.g. animal dung
(cow dung, elephant dung etc.), urine, urban garbage, sewage, crop residues and oil cakes. All
these wastes can be converted in to organic manures.

Advantages of using biofertilizers

- Biofertilizers improve the tolerance of plants against toxic heavy metals.

- It is possible to reclaim saline or alkaline soil by using biofertilizers.
- Use of biofertilizers helps in controlling environmental pollution.
- Fertility of soil is increased year after year.
- Low cost and easy to produce.
- Biofertilizers increase the physico-chemical properties of the soil, soil texture and water
holding capacity.

Some of the limitations encountered while using the biofertilizers are that they alone cannot meet
the total needs of the plants for nutrient supply and also they do not produce the spectacular
results as observed in synthetic fertilizers. It is important to evolve an approach which can
maximize the use of biofertilizers and reduce the dependency on the chemical fertilizers in the
near future with out affecting the crop productivity. This will help us to solve the environment
related problems caused due to overuse of chemical fertilizers.
Biotechnology Industry Facts Printer Friendly

• The biotechnology industry emerged in the 1970s, based largely on a new recombinant
DNA technique whose details were published in 1973 by Stanley Cohen of Stanford
University and Herbert Boyer of the University of California, San Francisco.
Recombinant DNA is a method of making proteins. such as human insulin and other cultured cells under controlled manufacturing conditions. Boyer went on to
co-found Genentech, which today is biotechnology's largest company by market
• Biotechnology has created more than 200 new therapies and vaccines, including products
to treat cancer, diabetes, HIV/ AIDS and autoimmune disorders.
• There are more than 400 biotech drug products and vaccines currently in clinical trials
targeting more than 200 diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, heart
disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and arthritis.
• Biotechnology is responsible for hundreds of medical diagnostic tests that keep the blood
supply safe from HIV and detect other conditions early enough to be successfully treated.
Home pregnancy tests are also biotechnology diagnostic products.
• Agricultural biotechnology benefits farmers, consumers and the
increasing yields and farm income, decreasing pesticide applications and improving soil
and water quality, and providing healthful foods for consumers.
• Environmental biotech products make it possible to clean up hazardous waste more
efficiently by harnessing pollutioneating microbes.
• Industrial biotech applications have led to cleaner processes that produce less waste and
use less energy and water in such industrial sectors as chemicals, pulp and paper, textiles,
food, energy, and metals and minerals. For example, most laundry detergents produced in
the United States contain biotechnology-based enzymes.
• DNA fingerprinting, a biotech process, has dramatically improved criminal investigation
and forensic medicine. It has also led to significant advances in anthropology and wildlife
• The biotech industry is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
• As of Dec. 31, 2006, there were 1,452 biotechnology companies in the United States, of
which 336 were publicly held.*
• Market capitalization, the total value of publicly traded biotech companies (U.S.) at
market prices, was $360 billion as of late April 2008 (based on stocks tracked by
• The biotechnology industry has mushroomed since 1992, with U.S. health care biotech
revenues from publicly traded companies rising from $8 billion in 1992 to $58.8 billion
in 2006.*
• Biotechnology is one of the most research-intensive industries in the world. U.S. publicly
traded biotech companies spent $27.1 billion on research and development in 2006.*
• There were 180,000 employed in U.S. biotech companies in 2006.*
• The top five biotech companies invested an average of $170,000 per employee in R&D in
• In 1982, recombinant human insulin became the first biotech therapy to earn FDA
approval. The product was developed by Genentech and Eli Lilly and Co.
• Corporate partnering has been critical to biotech success. According to BioWorld, in
2007 biotechnology companies struck 417 new partnerships with pharmaceutical
companies and 473 deals with fellow biotech companies. The industry also saw 126
mergers and acquisitions.
• Most biotechnology companies are young companies developing their first products and
depend on investor capital for survival. According to BioWorld, biotechnology attracted
more than $24.8 billion in financing in 2007 and raised more than $100 billion in the
five-year span of 2003-2007.
• The biosciences - including all life-sciences activities - employed 1.3 million people in
the United States in 2006 and generated an additional 7.5 million related jobs.**
• The average annual wage of U.S. bioscience workers was $71,000 in 2006, more than
$29,000 greater than the average private-sector annual wage.**
• The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) was founded in 1993 to represent
biotechnology companies at the local, state, federal and international levels. BIO
comprises more than 1,200 members, including biotech companies, academic centers,
state and local associations, and related enterprises.

* New data are expected in mid-2008 from Ernst & Young, which publishes an annual global
overview of the biotechnology industry.