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Biotechnology - An Introduction

Biotechnology is an umbrella technology having many applications such as transgenic plant research to create disease-resistant crops, the increased nutritional quality of foods, genome analysis, understanding and curing genetic disorders, development of vaccines, biodiversity conservation among several other uses. 

Biotechnology uses organisms and their parts in process for production of useful substances and services. The applications range from development of antibiotics, use of stem cells to produce an entire new organism, bio-engineering a mosquito and so on. The impact of biotechnology is already visible in areas of agriculture, healthcare, environment and various industries.

History of Biotechnology

The earliest use of biotechnology was selective breeding and hybridization of domesticated animals for better efficiency. It has been used to progress human civilizations and has become an integral part of human society. From fermentation of beer, cheese curation, production of bread to modifying bananas and tomato for consumption, the applications of biotechnology are all around us.

Most people believe that modern biotechnology began in 1971 with Paul Berg's (Stanford University) research on gene splicing.

In the 21st century, the domain has come to encompass a wide variety of areas such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, DNA profiling, stem cell research, cloning, bionics among others.

Fields of Biotechnology

The field of Biotechnology can be classified into the following terms which have come to be used in recent times :

  • Red Biotechnology: This dimension of biotechnology is related to medicinal uses and includes areas of vaccine and new drug development, curing diseases through genetic engineering, new molecular diagnostic techniques, regenerative cell therapies etc. 

  • White Biotechnology: It deals with industrial processes and pays special emphasis to sustainable processes and products by ensuring low energy consumption and less pollution. One of the key areas in this dimension is the development of biofuels and bio textiles.

  • Grey Biotechnology: This domain of biotechnology deals with applications of biotechnology for biodiversity maintenance and bioremediation (removal of pollutants) for oil spills and cleaning contaminated groundwater among others. Using molecular biology, genome storage, cloning is used for the preservation and maintenance of biodiversity. Microorganisms can also be modified to dispose of pollutants such as microplastics, heavy metals and carbon sequestration and create by-products from the processes for further use.

  • Green and Yellow Biotechnology: This dimension of biotechnology deals with using plants and microorganisms for producing biopesticides, biofertilizers and creating genetically modified species for agricultural purposes. Yellow Biotechnolgy is specific to cheesemaking, winemaking and brewing.

  • Blue Biotechnology: This branch of biotechnology deals with the exploitation of oceanic resources for various applications such as medicine from horseshoe crab blood, new food sources such as algae and sustainable fisheries. 

  • Dark Biotechnology: The term has come to be associated with the use of biotechnology to create biological weapons and further bioterrorism. It involves ethical and legal questions surrounding the use of technology in a negative connotation.

  • Golden Biotechnology: It is an interdisciplinary field with a special focus on using computation and data for research and the development of applications for a larger impact. The term is often associated with bioinformatics and computational biotechnology and plays a key role in the pharmaceutical sector. 

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