Last Updated on March 10, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Biotechnology can be defined as making use of the living system, organisms to develop products that are of great use. In general, it is the technology based on the application of biological processes.
Biotechnology includes a wide range of procedures for modifying living organisms according to human purposes.
The European Federation of Biotechnology defines biotechnology as the integration of natural science and organisms, cells, parts thereof, and molecular analog for products and services.
Traditional processes usually utilize the living organisms in their natural form, while the modern form of biotechnology involves a more advanced modification of the biological system and organism. Processes such as Brewing and baking bread falls under traditional biotechnology. But in the 21st century, biotechnology involves various advanced technologies, giving rise to new products and processes.
Modern biotechnology deals with the range of processes and mechanisms especially at a molecular level. Biotechnology has been divided into four broad disciplines namely medical processes, industrial processes, marine processes, and agricultural processes.
Biotechnology has various applications in cell culture, gene cloning, breeding, modern immunology, development of new drugs, agricultural application, etc. and has made our life much easier.
A Brief History
Humans have used biotechnology since the dawn of civilization. Egyptians used yeasts to bake leavened bread, the Chinese developed fermentation techniques for brewing. In the agricultural field, farmers have been selecting best-suited crops with the highest yield and found to alter the genetics of crops by introducing them to a new environment and interbreeding processes through traditional biotechnology.
Fermentation of beer, which falls under the process of biotechnology, was practised in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India, where malted grains are subjected to enzymes that give rise to beer through enzymatic reactions.
After gaining a greater understanding of microbiology in the early 20th century, biotechnology took a greater leap. In 1917, Chaim Weizmann first used a pure microbiological culture in an industrial process, to produce acetone which was used to develop explosives during WW I and it also led to developing antibiotics, Penicillin in 1928, which is an antibiotic used to cure the bacterial infection in human being.
Modern biotechnology was evolved through genetic breakthrough which involved gene splicing and transferring a gene to the bacterium. By now biotechnology has made much progress in the field of science and technology by introducing technology like gene cloning, new breeding methods, biochemistry, medical advancements, agricultural advancements, and industrial biotechnology.
Biotechnology is one of the biggest technological advancements of the time and has been extensively used in various fields like medicine, agriculture, industry, and healthcare.
Pros of Biotechnology
Biotechnology provides many benefits to human being and the environment in many ways some of them are explained below:
1. Agricultural Benefits
Using biotechnology, we can develop best crop varieties that have greater yields and are resistant to certain pests, diseases can survive in stressful environmental conditions, and are resistant to chemical treatments. Genetically modified crops, the DNA of which has been modified using recombinant DNA technology, gives rise to new traits that do not occur in natural crops.
According to data, farmers claimed that using genetically modified crops, the production rate has been increased by a great factor. Genetic engineering also helps in producing fruit and vegetables throughout the year in any season.
2. Increased Nutrition in Crops
Biotechnology helps to improve nutrition contents of crops such as vitamins, protein, and minerals, and improved nutrition can be helpful to improve diet quality to a great extent and reduces health issues cause by lack of nutrition. People can get much nutrition by consuming the same amount of food they were consuming before hence allows more people to have food and decreases hunger.
3. Improvement in Medical Field
Technologies such as genetic engineering, genetic testing, and genetic mutation had changed the medical field. Genetic testing allows us to understand the human genome helps to understand the different genetic diseases and helps to find the treatment/cure for them.
Genomics, the study of the gene allows us to study the characteristics of the living being and has helped to find birth defects and various genetic disorders. Biotechnology also helps to make vaccines for curing diseases.
4. Pharmaceutical Benefits
Biotechnology has numerous applications in the areas of drug development and production and pharmacogenomics. Modern biotechnology has a great contribution to the discovery of Biopharmaceuticals, any pharmaceutical product manufactured from biological sources and pharmacogenomics studies how an individual’s genetic makeup affects his response to drugs, hence helps to study drug effects on a particular individual.
5. Industrial Benefits
Industrial biotechnology is also known as white biotechnology, helps in various industrial processes such as industrial fermentation. It studies microorganisms for better catalysts, enzymes to generate useful products like food, chemicals, drugs, textiles, paper, etc. and it also reduces hazardous chemical waste. Its main goal is to use renewable material for production and to produce biodegradable products.
6. Environmental Benefits
Since the advancement of technology has directly affected the environment as industries produce hazardous industrial waste and create air pollution. Biotechnology allows us to create products that have better biodegradable properties and allows us to use renewable raw material for production hence helps to save the environment and minimize the footprint being left for future generations.
Cons of Biotechnology
While biotechnology provides numerous advantages for humans and the environment, there are also several potential disadvantages.
1. Genetic Mutations are Dangerous
Introduction of foreign genes to the diet may affect the health of human beings, the immune system may not tolerate the desired genes inserted through genetically modified food can be dangerous to the human body. This might cause allergies, sometimes cancer, and some diseases getting immune to drugs which is a serious problem.
2. Impact on the Ecosystem and Nature
Biotechnology is used to modify organisms, genetically, the effect of which is still not known. These genetically modified organisms, including bacteria, can escape in the environment and may disturb the balance of the ecosystem. This, as a result, may imbalance in the ecosystem and also harmful to living organisms especially human beings.
3. It Can Be Destructive
Since biotechnology involves genetic alteration of various organisms both for production as well as research purposes. During this process of genetic alternation, some new kinds of bacteria could be produced which might be dangerous. In the wrong hands, it could also be turned into a dangerous biological weapon and might cause massive destruction.
4. Field with Many Unknowns
Though we discovered many applications of biotechnology, there are still many unknown theories about technology. For example, what if we change the genetics of a person to cure a particular disease? There might be some negative effects which are still unknown to us, so it’s still a topic of great suspense.
5. Adverse Effects on Cropland
In a way, biotechnology is helping us to increase the production rate of crops but it also degrades the fertility of the soil. Such crop varieties require a high amount of nutrients from the soil which in turn makes soil infertile within a small duration of time. This might cause soil infertility which will increase the use of chemical fertilizers and this will directly affect the environment and the use of chemical fertilizers affects the quality of crops too.
6. Lack of Genetic Diversity
Different biotechnological processes are used to increase crop yield and their nutritious quality as well as in the medical field gene mutation is used to test different biological processes and products. It is also possible that someday something bad could happen and will put our survival in danger since biotechnology isn’t thoroughly known.
Technological revolutions nowadays can bring about better capacities and opportunities. The popularity of biotechnology has become extensive due to its greater applications to agriculture and medicine.
The use of modern technology aided advancements to the technologies we were using before gave rise to new fields of biotechnology such as genomics, genetic modification, cell culture, applied immunology and it is providing a great life and safer environment.
Apart from many benefits, there are many adverse effects of biotechnology which have dangerous effects on living beings and the environment.
Misuse of the technology might put human life in danger, for this reason, certain areas of study in biotechnology, such as human cloning, have been restricted. In the wrong hands, biotechnology can even create weapons of mass destruction.