What is biotechnology? Biotechnology is an emerging field in technology with great potential to change our lives. It can help lengthen our lives, reduce risks for disease, cure cancer, change our own genes, and engineer our offspring. This site is devoted to the field of biotechnology and its history.
The term biotechnology, often referred to as biotech, brings to mind many different things. Many people think that biotechnology only involves genetic research. Cloning, the human genome project, movies, news, and pop culture focusing on genetic research have contributed to this. However, the field of biotechnology is much more broad. Genetic engineering of crops for agriculture, bioremediation, food processing, drugs, and proteomics are all included in the field of biotechnology. Biotechnology is the branch of technology that utilizes living organisms or biological systems to modify humans and their environment. Biotechnology is also not only limited to high-tech or prototype technologies, humans have been practicing biotechnology for centuries. The most primitive examples include the breeding of dogs and using yeast to make bread rise.
What advantage do the products of biotechnology have over regular drugs and treatments? Drugs and therapies from Gattaga are designed to be most effective according to the genome of each patient. This allows our drugs to be specifically designed and more effective. Fewer side effects are encountered because our knowledge of the human genome allows us to design drugs specific to your needs- drugs that target specific systems. Synthetically manufactured drugs are not as specific in their actions and tend to cause more side effects.
Biotechnology also has it uses beyond medicine or agriculture. DNA fingerprinting was a forensic breakthrough. Investigators can now determine the identity of a criminal just by analyzing DNA from a hair strand or drop of blood at the crime scene.
By the definition above, early Neolithic humans have used biotechnology to survive. Therefore, it is common practice to divide biotechnology into two eras: traditional and modern.
Traditional biotechnology has been in use for thousands of years, probably since the beginning of civilization. Since the domestication of the dog during the Mesolithic Period of the Stone Age, selective breeding has a form of biotechnology. For thousands of years the best animals and plants have been bred together. Each successive generation has been more likely to carry the desirable traits of the plant or animal. A hundred years ago an organism’s DNA would be scanned to look for desirable traits and the organisms with the traits would be bred. This is no longer necessary since we can genetically engineer animals.
Another form of biotechnology that has been around for thousands of years is the use of microorganisms in food. Microorganisms are used to turn milk into cheese and yogurt. They are used to ferment beer and wine. Yeast is used in bread to make it rise. All of this can be considered biotechnology because it utilizes organisms.
Modern biotechnology deals more with the treatment of ailments and alteration of organisms to better human life. Most breakthroughs in biotechnology have all been relatively current, with the earliest advancement being about 170 years ago with the discovery of microbes. Proteins were only discovered in 1830, with the isolation of the first enzyme following closely three ears later. In 1859, Darwin published his revolutionary book, On the Origin of Species. Six years later, Gregor Mendel, considered the father of modern genetics, discovers the laws of heredity and laid the groundwork for genetic research. Near the turn of the century, L ouis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided the basis for research in microbiology. These numerous advancements allowed modern biotechnology to rise.
In addition to these numerous early advances, the first restriction enzyme was discovered in 1970. These discoveries ultimately allowed researchers to insert foreign genes into bacteria in 1973. This breakthrough was the basis of recombinant DNA and is considered the birth of modern biotechnology.
The “Dawn of Biotech” is considered from the first production of insulin around 1970 to present. The common view of biotechnology is just the field that deals with genes and cloning. However, not until very recently was the first mammal cloned. In 1997, researchers in Scotland cloned a sheep named Dolly. Shortly after, another sheep named Polly was cloned, with one key difference. Polly had been cloned with nuclear transfer technology, therefore Polly had genes from another organism, the human. Other advancements in 1997 include artificial human chromosomes and researchers from Oregon claiming to have cloned two rhesus monkeys.
In 1998, there was a breakthrough that rivaled the cloning of Dolly in importance. For years, molecular biologists were interested in studying stem cells because of their ability to grow into any other type of cell in the human body. Two teams in this year successfully grew stem cells and sparked the field of embryonic stem cell research. Bioethics and the ensuing controversies are also attributed to this. In addition, the genome of an animal, the small worm C. elegans, was assembled and laid the basis of the technology and procedures used to determine the human genome.
In 1999, antibody analysis was made available to investigators as another tool to help bring down criminals. If a DNA test failed, an antibody analysis might produce results. Another breakthrough in 1998 was the completion of the human genome map, a genetic map showing where genes are located on chromosomes. Foods created or improved through genetic engineering were soaring and became the subject of some scrutiny on whether it was safe to eat.
The year 2000 was one of the most defining years in biotechnology as well as human history. The human genome project was completed, and was released by Craig Venter and Francis Collins. Dr. Peter St. George-Hyslop successfully immunized mice against Alzheimer’s disease.
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