Biotechnology Information

Biotechnology is a field of biology that involves the use of living things in engineering, technology, medicine, etc.. Modern use of the term refers to genetic engineering as well as cell- and tissue culture technologies. However, the concept encompasses a wider range and history of procedures for modifying living organisms according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of plants and "improvements" to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization. By comparison to biotechnology, bioengineering is generally thought of as a related field with its emphasis more on mechanical and higher systems approaches to interfacing with and exploiting living things. United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as:

Biotechnology draws on the pure biological sciences and in many instances is also dependent on knowledge and methods from outside the sphere of biology . Conversely, modern biological sciences are intimately entwined and dependent on the methods developed through biotechnology and what is commonly thought of as the life sciences industry.

Although not normally thought of as biotechnology, agriculture clearly fits the broad definition of "using a biotechnological system to make products" such that the cultivation of plants may be viewed as the earliest biotechnological enterprise. Agriculture has been theorized to have become the dominant way of producing food since the Neolithic Revolution. The processes and methods of agriculture have been refined by other mechanical and biological sciences since its inception. Through early biotechnology, farmers were able to select the best suited and highest-yield crops to produce enough food to support a growing population. Other uses of biotechnology were required as crops and fields became increasingly large and difficult to maintain. Specific organisms and organism by-products were used to fertilize, restore nitrogen, and control pests. Throughout the use of agriculture, farmers have inadvertently altered the genetics of their crops through introducing them to new environments and breeding them with other plants—one of the first forms of biotechnology. Cultures such as those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India developed the process of brewing beer. It is still done by the same basic method of using malted grains to convert starch from grains into sugar and then adding specific yeasts to produce beer. In this process the carbohydrates in the grains were broken down into alcohols such as ethanol. Ancient Indians also used the juices of the plant Ephedra vulgaris and used to call it Soma. Later other cultures produced the process of Lactic acid fermentation which allowed the fermentation and preservation of other forms of food. Fermentation was also used in this time period to produce leavened bread. Although the process of fermentation was not fully understood until Pasteur’s work in 1857, it is still the first use of biotechnology to convert a food source into another form.

Wikipedia, Biotechnology, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biotechnology (as of Apr 1, 2010)

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