What is biotechnology?
Biotechnology is an area of science focused on the use of living systems and organisms in the creation and improvement of techniques and products.
Biotechnology encompasses basic biological sciences (such as molecular biology, embryology, genetics, etc.), applied sciences (such as immunology and biochemistry), as well as technological areas such as informatics and robotics.
Biotechnological methods cover several procedures for modifying living organisms, from the simplest such as the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants, to the improvement processes such as artificial selection and hybridization. In addition, the most modern methods involve the use of genetic engineering and the culture of cells and tissues.
The integration between the different areas of biology with the techniques mentioned above gives rise to biotechnology, whose applications occur in different sectors.
Differences between classical biotechnology and modern biotechnology
Classical biotechnology concerns the various means of using live microorganisms for the production of new products or modification of existing products. It covers classic methods such as the crossing of species to obtain new ones that have the desired characteristics, and fermentation, used in the production of wines, cheeses and bread.
Modern biotechnology relies heavily on techniques that use genetic engineering. In this sense, it is possible to say that the greatest advances in biotechnology occurred through genetic engineering tools and methods, such as the intentional manipulation of genes, cells and tissues in a controlled way to form genetically improved organisms, DNA recombination, tissue culture, mutagenesis, etc.
Examples of application of biotechnology
Considering that biotechnology comprises a wide range of sciences, its results can be found in numerous sectors of the economy. Applications in this area always seek to improve the quality of life on the planet, whether through the creation of new techniques and products or the improvement of existing ones.
Genetically modified organisms
A classic example of the application of biotechnology is the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also called transgenics. These organisms have had their genetic code altered (usually by combining genes from other organisms), with the aim of eliminating defects and developing new properties.
In the 1950s, the agronomist Norman Borlaug, through genetic crosses, gave rise to the “half dwarf wheat”, a new, more resistant and productive wheat species, which revolutionized agriculture around the world.
The main examples of genetically modified organisms are those used:
- in medicine: insulin, stem cells, growth hormone, hormones for the treatment of infertility, new treatments for cancer, gene therapy (treatment of diseases by replacing defective genes), vaccines, etc.
- in agriculture: genetically improved food, more resistant and productive crops, animals and plants modified to produce substances that can be used in medicines, etc.
- in animals: transgenic mice used in studies and fish with growth four times above normal (tilapia and goldfish).
- in the environment: bacteria that fight pollution caused by oil and metals.
As an example, check out other goods and services that had biotechnological origin:
|Sectors||Goods and services|
|Agriculture||Compost fertilizer, pesticides, silage, plant or tree seedlings, plants with new properties, etc.|
|Health||Antibiotics, hormones, medications, reagents, tests, etc.|
|Chemical industry||Butanol, acetone, glycerol, organic acids, enzymes, etc.|
|Energy||Ethanol, biogas, etc.|
|Environment||Oil recovery, waste treatment, water purification, etc.|
Advantages of Biotechnology
The advantages brought by biotechnology are numerous and extend to all its fields of application, improving the quality of life in the world. Among its most apparent results are:
- Higher yield and greater resistance crops;
- Less use of pesticides;
- GMO foods last longer, reducing food waste;
- Reduction in the amount of energy needed to produce food;
- Use of products that are less harmful to the environment;
- Reduction of hunger in the world;
- More nutritious foods;
- Reduction in the occurrence of contagious diseases;
- Creation of more accurate tools in the detection of diseases, etc.
Disadvantages of Biotechnology
The advances caused by biotechnology also have negative consequences. Among the main ones, we can highlight:
- Environmental damage;
- High dependence on technologies from developed countries;
- Increase in income concentration;
- Uncertainty about its long-term effects on the environment and organisms;
- Decreased biodiversity;
- Increase in the occurrence of diseases caused by transgenic products.
In order to classify the different areas of biotechnology, professionals and scholars in the area have adopted a color system that divides science into branches, according to the field of application:
- Green biotechnology: is applied in agriculture with the aim of creating more sustainable agricultural conditions.
- Red biotechnology: is applied in medicine with the aim of improving medicines and treatments. The most advanced methods even cover curing diseases through genetic manipulation.
- White biotechnology: also called industrial biotechnology, it is used in the manufacture of products through methods that are less harmful to the environment.
- Yellow biotechnology: is applied in the areas of nutrition and food production, but also refers to the branch of biotechnology applied to insects.
- Blue biotechnology: is applied in the exploitation of marine biological resources.
- Purple Biotechnology: It is related to laws, patents, publications and other documentary issues related to biotechnology.
- Golden Biotechnology: refers to the use of bioinformatics and computational techniques in biotechnology.
- Orange biotechnology: also called educational biotechnology, it consists of all measures aimed at the dissemination and dissemination of biotechnology.
- Black Biotechnology: It is related to the application of biotechnology for warlike purposes, such as the production of biological weapons.
Career in biotechnology
In view of the multidisciplinary nature of biotechnology, access to the profession can occur through several different training courses, such as biology, medicine, agronomy, biochemistry, engineering, pharmacy, etc.
Specialization requirements for entry into the biotechnology field vary according to each profession’s own regulations.
List of Acronyms Related to Biotechnology