What is Biotechnology?

                  Biotechnology is the development and utilization of biological forms, products, or processes for obtaining maximum benefits to man and other forms of life. According to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,1981)- ‘Biotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents to provide goods and services to the human welfare’.

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Biotechnology uses scientific principles of microbiology, genetics biochemistry, chemical engineering, mathematics, statistics, computers, industrial processes, etc. Biological agent means plants and animal cells, microorganisms, enzymes, or their products. History of the origin of biotechnology is as old as human civilization. The development of biotechnology in terms of its growth, occurred in two phases viz, Traditional biotechnology, and Modern biotechnology.

Traditional Biotechnology

Traditional biotechnology (old biotechnology) was primarily based on fermentation technology using microorganisms as in the preparation of curd, ghee, soma, vinegar, yogurt, cheese making, winemaking, etc. It became an art of kitchen in Indian houses. It was more an art than science.

Till that time people did not know as to how exactly the process occurs and the organisms causing this process. The contributions made by several chemists, biochemists, and microbiologists, over time, could explain the mechanism of the process and also the nature of microorganisms causing the process.

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Modern Biotechnology

During 1970 a new technique of ‘recombinant DNA technology was developed and then established by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. This technique has changed the overall outlook, then. The technique permits to change/ modify genetic (heritable) material for getting new specific products. The combination of biology and production technology based on genetic engineering evolved into modern biotechnology (new biotechnology).

Difference between Modern and Old Biotechnology

There are two major features of the technology that differentiates modern biotechnology from classical or old biotechnology viz,

i. The capability of science to change the genetic material for getting new specific products through rDNA technology, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), microarrays, cell culture and fusion, and bioprocessing.

ii. Ownership of technology and its socio-political impact. Now the conventional industries pharmaceutical industries, agro-industries, food industries, etc. are also focussing attention to produce biotechnology-based products.

Uses of Biotechnology:

Synthetic insulin, synthetic growth hormone and diagnostic tests to detect various diseases, industrial biotechnology uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products in sectors such as chemicals, food ingredients, detergents, paper, textiles and biofuels.

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