Science & Technology in Action

2nd Edition

Advances in Biotechnology


This lesson explains what biotechnology is and describes its contribution to many everyday products and processes. Genetic modification is described, along with alternative methods of accomplishing similar results.
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Lesson excerpt

Biotechnology is a collection of technologies that uses living organisms and sub-cellular biological elements to develop products, processes and services. Early applications of biotechnology include the fermentation of milk to produce cheese and yogurt and the use of yeast in bread-making; these processes have been in use for at least 4500 years. Other examples of early biotechnologies include traditional animal and plant breeding techniques, such as the domestication of geese in Egypt and the development of corn from its ancestor, Teosinte, in Mexico. In this lesson we will look at the advances in biotechnology and the effects on our daily lives.

An ancient technology with a very modern twist
Many, though not all, industrial developments in biotechnology have involved the genetic modifi cation of organisms, such as the modifi cation of bacteria and yeast for the production of insulin and antibiotics. Insulin was one of the fi rst proteins to be genetically engineered. Taking the human gene for insulin and inserting it into a bacterium, Escherichia coli (E. coli), facilitated the production of large quantities of insulin for use by diabetics. Insulin was previously isolated from pig pancreas.

Today, applications of biotechnology do not necessarily use entire living organisms. Technologies that manipulate proteins, peptides, DNA and RNA are all part of the toolkit of a working biotechnologist. These tools include gene expression analysis, genetic fingerprinting/marker assisted selection and genetic engineering, and they contribute to a better understanding of the genetic basis of important traits. These techniques provide the potential to introduce signifi cant genetic improvement in crops and animals.

True or False?

  1. Biotechnology and genetic modification are different terms for the same process. false
  2. DNA fingerprinting is a form of biotechnology. false
  3. Adenine, cytosine, guanine and uracil are the bases found in RNA. true
  4. The proces of forming mRNA from DNA is called translation. false
  5. The process of forming protein in accordance with the mRNA code is called translation. true
  6. The purpose of classifying biotechnology is to make it easier for the general public and scientists to understand. true
  7. White biotechnology is applied to medical processes such as the formation of antibiotics. false
  8. Biotechnology is also known as genetic engineering. false
  9. Marker assisted selection is used to identify regions in the chromosomes that control complex traits. true
  10. Marine or aquatic biotechnonogy is known as Green Biotechnology. false
  11. Proteins can be converted into genes by a process called translation. false