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 one of the broadest:
- 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 for the manufacture of organic products (examples include beer, milk-products, and skin). Naturally present bacteria are utilized by the mining industry in bioleaching. Biotechnology is also used to recycle, treat waste, clean up sites contaminated by industrial activities (bioremediation), and produce biological weapons.
There are also applications of biotechnology that do not use living organisms. Examples are DNA microarrays used in genetics and radioactive tracers used in medicine.
Modern biotechnology is often associated with the use of genetically altered microorganisms such as E. coli or yeast for the production of 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. Another promising new biotechnology application is the development of plant-made pharmaceuticals.
Curiously, "biotechnology companies" need not employ "biotechnology" as it is defined by scientists or the UN. Rather, the term describes start-up companies especially in medical discovery that are characterised by many years of financial losses as they put experimental drugs through clinical trials.
Sub-fields of biotechnology
There are number of jargon terms for sub-fields of biotech.
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 than 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.
The top 10 publicly-traded biotechnology companies, ranked by 2003 sales, are:
- Biogen Idec
- Gilead Sciences
- Millennium Pharmaceuticals
Biotechnology in fiction
The Breen use starships with organic technology. The starship USS Voyager used bio-neural gel pack circuitry. Species 8472 used organic spacecraft.
The Yuuzhan Vong exclusively use organic technology and regard mechanical technology as blasphemy.