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Biotechnology is technology based on biology, especially when used in agriculture, food science, and medicine. United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as: “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”

Biotechnology is often used to refer to genetic engineering technology of the 21st century, however the term encompasses a wider range and history of procedures for modifying biological organisms according to the needs of humanity, going back to the initial modifications of native plants into improved food crops through artificial selection and hybridization. Bioengineering is the science upon which all biotechnological applications are based. With the development of new approaches and modern techniques, traditional biotechnology industries are also acquiring new horizons, enabling them to improve the quality of their products and increase the productivity of their systems.

Before 1971, the term “biotechnology” was primarily used in the food processing and agriculture industries. Since the 1970s, it began to be used by scientists to refer to laboratory-based techniques being developed in biological research, such as recombinant DNA or tissue culture-based processes, or horizontal gene transfer in living plants, using vectors such as the Agrobacterium bacteria to transfer DNA into a host organism. In fact, the term should be used in a much broader sense to describe the whole range of methods, both ancient and modern, used to manipulate organic materials to reach the demands of food production. The term could be defined as, “The application of indigenous and/or scientific knowledge to the management of (parts of) microorganisms, or of cells and tissues of higher organisms, so that these supply goods and services of use to the food industry and its consumers.”

Biotechnology has the potential to be used for human enhancement, and it can be used to create biological weapons. Biotechnology raises a variety of ethical issues of interest to bioethicists. Biotechnology faces both right-wing and left-wing Bioconservative criticism, such as at the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. While biotechnology holds great potential for improving crops and their yield and nutrients, some left environmentalists oppose its agricultural use as risky tampering with nature. Opposition to agricultural biotechnology is greater in Europe than in the United States.

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 biorobotics. Patho-biotechnology describes the exploitation of pathogens or pathogen derived compounds for beneficial effect. Biotechnology includes or is involved in cloning, biochemical engineering, biomedical engineering, and bioinformatics, as well as the environmental technologies biodegradation and

Biotechnology is part of the NBIC Emerging technologies, along with nanotechnology, information science, and cognitive science.

IEET Links:

Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature


Wikipedia on Biotechnology