This article throws light upon the ten things of biotechnology. The ten things are discussed below.
The term biotechnology represents a fusion or an alliance between biology and technology. Frankly speaking, biotechnology is as old as human civilization, and is an integral part of human life. Thus, biotechnology is a newly discovered discipline for age-old practices.
There are records that wine and beer was prepared in as early as 6000 B.C., bread and curd in 4000 B.C. Today, we know that all these are the processes based on the natural capabilities of microorganisms.
1. Old and New Biotechnology:
Many authors prefer to use the term old or traditional biotechnology to the natural processes that have been in use for many centuries to produce beer, wine, curd, cheese and many other foods. The new or modern biotechnology embraces all the genetic manipulations, cell fusion techniques and the improvements made in the old biotechnological processes.
We have to accept that the present day biotechnology is not something new, but it represents a series of technologies, some of them dating back to thousands of years e.g. production of foods, beverages, modification of plants and animals with desired tracts. It is only in recent years that these traditional practices are being subjected to scientific scrutiny, understood and improved, at least in some instances.
2. Definition(s) of Biotechnology:
The term biotechnology was introduced in 191 7 by a Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky. He used the term for large-scale production of pigs by using sugar beets as the source of food. Ereky defined biotechnology as ‘all lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with the aid of living things’.
This definition was almost ignored for many years. For most people, biotechnology represented two aspects of engineering—industrial fermentation and study of the efficiency at work place. The fact that biotechnology is interdisciplinary in nature, with a wide range of applications has created some confusion with regard to its definition. This is mainly because scientists from each discipline have described the term from their own perspective. Around a dozen of the selected definitions of biotechnology are given below:
1. The applications of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents to provide goods and services.
2. The applications of biological organisms, systems and processes to manufacturing and service industries.
3. The controlled use of biological agents such as microorganisms or cellular components for beneficial purposes.
4. The integrated use of biochemistry, microbiology and engineering sciences in order to achieve technological application of the capabilities of microorganisms, cultured tissues/cells and parts thereof.
5. The use of living organisms and their components in agriculture, food, and other industries.
6. The use of biological organisms or their constituents for the transformation of inputs into commercial outputs.
7. A technology using biological phenomena for copying and manufacturing various kinds of useful substances.
8. Controlled and deliberate application of simple biological agents-living or dead or cell components-in technically useful operations, either of productive manufacture or as service operation.
9. The use of living organisms in systems or processes for manufacture of useful products. It may involve bacteria, algae, fungi, yeast, cells of higher plants or animals or subsystems of any of these or isolated components from living matter.
10. The use of living organisms to solve problems or make useful products.
11. The industrial production of goods and services by processes using biological organisms, systems and processes.
12. A .set of techniques and processes involving biological materials.
The European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) broadly considers biotechnology as “the integration of natural sciences and organisms, cells, parts thereof, and molecular analogues for products and services”. In whichever way the term biotechnology has been defined, it essentially represents the use of microbial, animal or plant cells or enzymes to synthesize, breakdown or transform materials.
3. History of Biotechnology:
From the historical perspective, the biotechnology dates back to the time (around 6000 BC) when the yeast was first used to produce beer and wine, and bacteria were first used to prepare yogurt. Some researchers consider Louis Pasteur, who identified the role of microorganisms in fermentation, (between 1857-1876) as the father of biotechnology.
The development of biotechnology, in the first half of twentieth century is associated with the fields of applied microbiology and industrial fermentations (production of penicillin, organic solvents etc.) The development of modern biotechnology is closely linked with the advances made in molecular biology. A selected list of historical foundations that contributed to the advancement of biotechnology is given below:
6000BC : Wine preparation (using yeast)
4000BC : Bread making (employing yeast)
1670-1680 : Use of microorganisms for copper mining.
1865 : Inheritance of genetic characters of Gregor Mendel.
1876 : Louis Pasteur identified role microorganisms in fermentation.
1897 : Extraction of enzymes from yeast by Edward Buchner.
1910 : Sewage purification by employing microorganisms established.
1914 : Production of industrial chemicals (acetone, butanol, glycerol) by using bacteria.
1917 : The term biotechnology was coined by Karl Ereky.
1928 : Discovery of penicillin by Alexander Flaming.
1943 : Industrial production of penicillin.
1944 : Identification of DNA as the genetic material (Avery, MacLeod and McCarty).
1953 : Determination of DNA structure by Watson and Crick.
1958 : Semiconservative replication of DNA by Messelson and Stahl.
1961 : Lac operon model for gene regulation, proposed by Jacob and Monod.
1961 : Launching of the Journal of Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
1962 : Microbial mining of uranium.
1962-66 : Entire genetic code deciphered.
1970 : Isolation of the first restriction endonuclease enzyme.
1972 : Synthesis of tRNA gene by Khorana et at.
1973 : Establishment of recombinant DNA technology by Boyer and Cohen.
1975 : Production of monoclonal antibodies by Kohler and Milstein.
1976 : National Institute of Health, USA issued first guidelines for rDNA research.
1976 : Sanger and Gilbert developed techniques to sequence DNA.
1977 : First genome (of bacteriophage QX174) sequenced.
1978 : Production of human insulin in E. coli.
1980 : Site-directed mutagenesis by Gillam et at.
1980 : U.S. Supreme Court rules that genetically engineered microorganisms can be patented (the case was fought by Anand Chakrabarty).
1981 : First diagnostic kits based on monoclonal antibodies approved in U.S.
1981 : First automated DNA synthesizers sold.
1982 : U.S. approved humulin (human insulin), the first pharmaceutical product of rDNA technology, for human use.
1982 : Approval given in Europe for the use of first animal vaccine produced by rDNA technology.
1983 : Use of Ti plasmids to genetically transform plants.
1987 : Gene transfer by biolistic transformation.
1988 : Development of polymerase chain reaction.
1988 : U.S. patent granted to genetically engineered mouse (susceptible to cancer).
1990 : Approval granted in U.S. for trail of human somatic cell gene therapy.
1990 : Official launching of human genome project.
1992 : First chromosome (of yeast) sequenced.
1994-95 : Genetic and physical maps of human chromosomes elucidated.
1996 : First eukaryotic organism (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) sequenced.
1997 : The first mammalian sheep, Dolly developed by nuclear cloning.
2000 : First plant genome (of Arabidopsis thaliana) sequenced.
2001 : Human genome, the first mammalian genome, sequenced.
2002 : First crop plant (rice, Oryza sativa) genome sequenced.
2003 : Mouse (Mus musculis) genome, the experimental animal closest model to man, sequenced.
The biotechnology revolution began in the 1970s and early 1980s when the scientists understood the genetic constitution of living organisms. A strong foundation of genetic engineering and modern biotechnology was laid down by Cohen and Boyer in 1973 when they could successfully introduce the desired genes of one organism into another, and clone the new genes.
It is an acknowledged fact that of all the scientific development, related recombinant DMA technology (rDNA technology) trigged the most significant and profound advancements in biotechnology. Thus, rDNA technology laid firm foundations for genetic engineering.
4. Biotechnology-A Multidisciplinary Growing Tree:
Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary pursuit with multidisciplinary applications, and it may be represented as a growing biotechnology tree (Fig. 1.1). This figure gives an overview of biotechnology with special reference to the fundamental principles and scientific foundations, biotechnological tools and applications of biotechnology.
5. Scientific Foundations of Biotechnology:
There is almost no discipline among the science subjects that has not contributed either directly or indirectly for the growth of biotechnology. About a dozen specialized branches of science that have predominantly provided the inputs for biotechnology are shown.
These may be appropriately regarded as the roots of biotechnology, and include biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, chemical engineering and bioinformatics. A large number of scientists working in these specialties have contributed to the development of biotechnology.
6. Biotechnological Tools:
Several methods, techniques or procedures which may be collectively called as biotechnological tools have been developed for transforming the scientific foundations into biotechnological applications. These tools include protein engineering, bioprocess/fermentation technology, cell and tissue culture technology, trans-genesis and antisense technology.
7. Applications of Biotechnology:
The fruits of biotechnological research have wide range of applications. In fact, there is no other branch of science which has as many applications as biotechnology. Biotechnology has benefited medical and health sciences (diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, and foods), agricultural sciences (improved crop yield, food quality, and improved animal health) and environmental sciences (pollution control, environmental monitoring, and bioremediation).
It is desirable to describe at least one example of biotechnological achievement that has helped the mankind. Prior to 1982, insulin required for the treatment of diabetics was obtained from pig and cow pancreases. The procedure was tedious, and the use of animal insulin was frequently associated with complications.
Then the human gene for insulin was isolated, cloned and expressed in microorganisms for the large scale production of insulin. Insulin was the first pharmaceutical product of recombinant DNA technology approved for human use. Millions of diabetics world-over are benefited by the biotechnology of insulin production.
8. Commercialization of Biotechnology:
The progress of biotechnology, to a great extent, is driven by economics. This is so since the ultimate objective of biotechnology is the development of commercial products. Due to high stakes in biotechnology, the business and research are closely associated. It is a fact that many biotechnology companies (besides the government- run institutions) have significantly contributed to the development of present day biotechnology.
Most of the commercial developments of biotechnology have been centered in the United States and Europe. The biotechnology-based industries can be profitably run by brains than muscles. It is predicted that the twenty-first century will be dominated by biotechnology driven industries which may be considered as new money plants.
9. Public Perception of Biotechnology:
Humans are the ultimate beneficiaries of biotechnology. This may be through healthcare, transgenic plants and animals, pesticides, fertilizers, in vitro cultures etc. The public perceptions of biotechnology will significantly influence the rate and direction of future growth of biotechnology.
The use of recombinant DNA technology has raised safety concerns. The public attitudes to biotechnology are mostly related to matters of imaginary dangers of genetic manipulations. Some people argue against genetic engineering, and many times, the public and politicians are misled. There is a need for the biotechnology community to frequently interact with the media and public to clear the unwarranted fears about the genetic engineering and biotechnology.
10. The Future of Biotechnology:
Biotechnology, with much fanfare, has become a comprehensive scientific venture from the point of academic and commercial angles, within a short time with the sequencing of human genome and genomes of some other important organisms. The future developments in biotechnology will be exciting. It may be rather difficult to make any specific predictions, since new technical innovations are rapidly replacing the existing technologies.
It is expected that the development in biotechnology will lead to a new scientific revolution that could change the lives and future of the people. It has happed through industrial revolution and computer revolution. And now, it is the turn of biotechnology revolution that promises major changes in many aspects of modern life.