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Biotechnology is technology based on biology, especially when used in agriculture, food science, and medicine.

Of the many different definitions available, the one formulated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is one of the broadest:

"Biotechnology is any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

One section of biotechnology is the directed use of organisms for the manufacture of organic products (examples include beer, milk products, and skin). Naturally present bacteria are utilized by the mining industry in bioleaching. Biotechnology is also used to recycle, treat waste, clean up sites contaminated by industrial activities (bioremediation), and produce biological weapons.

There are also applications of biotechnology that do not use living organisms. Examples are DNA microarrays used in genetics and radioactive tracers used in medicine.

Modern biotechnology is often associated with the use of genetically altered microorganisms such as E. coli or yeast for the production of substances like insulin or antibiotics. It can also refer to transgenic animals or transgenic plants, such as Bt corn. Genetically altered mammalian cells, such as Chinese Hamster ovarian cells, are also widely used to manufacture pharmaceuticals. Another promising new biotechnology application is the development of plant-made pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology is also commonly associated with breakthroughs in new medical therapies and diagnostic devices.

Sub-fields of biotechnology

There are a number of jargon terms for sub-fields of biotechnology.

Red biotechnology is biotechnology applied to medical processes. Some examples are the designing of organisms to produce antibiotics, and the engineering of genetic cures to diseases through genomic manipulation.

White biotechnology, also known as grey biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes when used to produce industrial goods.

Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example is the designing of an organism to grow under specific environmental conditions or in the presence (or absence) of certain agricultural chemicals. One hope is that green biotechnology might produce environmentally more friendly solutions than traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this is the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide, thereby eliminating the need for external application of pesticides. Whether or not green biotechnology products such as this are ultimately more environmentally friendly is a topic of considerable debate.

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques. The field is also often referred to as computational biology. It plays a key role in various areas like functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics amongst others, and forms a key component in biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

The term blue biotechnology has also been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.

Biotechnology timeline

Biotechnology firms

The top 10 publicly-traded biotechnology companies, ranked by 2003 sales, are:

  1. Amgen
  2. Genentech
  3. Serono
  4. Biogen Idec
  5. Chiron
  6. Genzyme
  7. MedImmune
  8. Pfizer
  9. Millennium Pharmaceuticals
  10. Applied Biosystems

Key visionaries and personalities in biotechnology sector


David Botstein, Craig Venter, Sidney Brenner, Eric Lander, Leroy Hood, Robert Langer, Henry I. Miller, Roger Beachy, William Rutter, George Rathmann, Robert Swanson...


To be updated...


Paul D Kemp...

Asia Pacific

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External links


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