Make your own free website on

Introduction to Biotechnology: An Overview
A. What is Biotechnology?
    "Biotechnology means any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

Biotechnology is technology based on biology, especially when used in agriculture, food science, and medicine. Biotechnology combines disciplines like genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, embryology and cell biology, which are in turn linked to practical disciplines like chemical engineering, information technology, and robotics.

Many people think that biotechnology only involves genetic research, due to the focus on cloning, the human genome project, movies, news, and genetic research. 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 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.

B. Biotechnology: A brief history

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, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided the basis for research in microbiology. These numerous advancements allowed modern biotechnology to rise.

With the advent of X-ray diffraction, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)- a double helix. This is considered one of the most important discoveries in biotechnology it has led to the possibility to directly alter genetic traits. Key advances in biotechnology that followed include Nirenberg and Khorana deciphering the codons of 20 amino acids and Borlaug successfully increasing the yield of wheat by 70%.
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.

C. Products of Biotechnology           
Review tables 1.1 and 1.2 on page 6.
The first major product of biotechnology was insulin. In the 1920’s, it was already possible to isolate insulin from the pancreas of pigs and cows. However, some diabetics are allergic to bovine and with the growing need for insulin, biochemists began to look for a more effective solution. They turned to new technologies of biotechnology, specifically recombinant DNA. They inserted an insulin-producing gene into bacteria and cloned these vectors. Using these methods, they were able to able make bacteria produce human insulin.

D. Types of Biotechnology


Good and bad bacteria, yeast formation


Transgenic plants and molecular pharming


Antibiotics and transgenic animals (Dolly)


Gene therapy, stem cells, treatment of human diseases and disorders.


CSI, DNA fingerprinting and analysis, and DNA evidence.




Quality Assurance (AC) and Quality Control (QC) ensures that biotech products meet certain standards regarding purity and performance


Oil spills, earth cleanup


E. Jobs in Biotechnology

Research and Development

Lab Technicians
Research Assistant or Associate
Principal/Senior Scientist

Manufacturing and Production

Material Handlers
Manufacturing Assistant or Associates
Engineers (Chemical, Electrical, Industrial, or Environmental)

QA and QC

Validation Tech
Documentation Clerk
QC inspector

Marketing and Sales

Sales Rep
Marketing Specialists