Biotechnology image of scientist in clean room

What is Biotechnology?

Biotechnology broadly defined is using living organisms to solve problems or to make products.

From this definition, one could say that biotechnology has been practiced by human society for a long time, in such activities as baking bread, brewing, breeding crops or animals.

Today, it is still biotechnology, but scientists have a better understanding if cells, biological molecules, proteins, DNA and other building blocks of life. Scientists are now using nanotechnology to manipulate life at the atomic level.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information web site has plain language introductions to bioinformatics, genome mapping, molecular modeling, SNPs, ESTs, microarray technology, molecular genetics, pharmacogenomics, and phylogenetics.


What are the Pros and Cons of Biotechnology?

Potential benefits of biotechnology

  • Foods that last longer
  • Disease and pest resistant crops
  • Accurate delivery of precise amounts of drugs, e.g., targeting cancer cells without damaging nearby healthy cells
  • Regenerative medicine, replacement organs
  • Designer babies, organisms
  • Slowing or stopping aging
  • Biological computing, wearable computers
  • Biological fabrication of clothing, plastics, and building materials
  • Environmentally friendly manufacturing processes that minimize waste
  • Microbial cleansers
  • Ultra-strength, lightweight materials
  • Prevent genetic/hereditary disorders
  • Drought tolerance
  • Increased food supply with potential to feed all

Potential drawbacks of biotechnology

  • May prove harmful for the natural plants, animals or environment
  • GMOs carried by wind or animals causing cross-contamination
  • Fixing a problem, could cause a problem, when you don't know the whole picture
  • Super viruses, weeds or pests
  • Gene manipulation can have unpredictable side effects
  • Genetic engineering can affect diversity
  • Gene therapy is not affordable for everyone
  • Introducing allergens and toxins to food



Wooly mammoth. Could cloning bring back extinct animals?

There are many moral and ethical concerns associated with cloning. A good understanding of the basic science and processes that lay behind cloning and what they can do, will help you make better decisions regarding its use. Cloning



Agricultural Biotechnology

Wooly mammoth. Could cloning bring back extinct animals?

Agricultural biotechnology is a broad range of tools--including traditional breeding and genetic engineering, that are used to modify plants or animals.

Read more about agrobiotechnology


Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine growing organs. Image is of trees from above in shape of human lungs.

Researchers and medical doctors of today hope to make the legendary concept of regeneration into reality by developing therapies to restore lost, damaged, or aging cells and tissues in the human body.

Regenerative Medicine


Types of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is when humans manipulate an organism's genetic material in a way that does not occur under natural conditions. 

Natural Selection - Nature's own genetic engineering

  • Selective Breeding - Altering the course of natural selection
  • Genetic Manipulation - Altering the genes of cells and organisms
  • Genetic Engineering - Creating new genes, proteins and organisms


Synthetic Life

New DNA Synthesis Method Could Soon Build a Genome in a Day

A Call to Arms for Synthetic Biology

Project aims to create living buildings

It's Alive! Artificial Life Springs From Manmade DNA

In synthetic life, the can is as important as the Coke

Hearing on synthetic life to examine breakthrough

Directed evolution gets a significant speed boost

‘Biological Teleportation’ Edges Closer With Craig Venter’s Digital-to-Biological Converter

How 'ninja polymers' are fighting killer superbugs


Genetic discrimination

Genetic discrimination occurs if people are treated unfairly because of differences in their DNA that increase their chances of getting a certain disease. For example, a health insurer might refuse to give coverage to a woman who has a DNA difference that raises her odds of getting breast cancer. Employers also could use DNA information to decide whether to hire or fire workers.



Designer Babies

New biotechnology research is making designer babies a reality now. Embryo screening technology and gene-editing may soon help you choose what type of baby you want.

Designer Babies




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