6 Characteristics of biotechnology

Throughout our lives we have heard about biotechnology more and more frequently, but what exactly is biotechnology and what does it deal with?

The truth is that biotechnology has a very broad spectrum of action, so defining it in a few words may not be the most appropriate way. Although it may sound a little foreign to our daily lives, we are in contact with it every day without realizing it and it has a significant impact on our quality of life.

Do you want to know more about what biotechnology is, what it is for and examples of its applications? Then I recommend that you stay and read this article.

What is biotechnology and what does it study?

Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary science that fits within biology as a mother science , but that combines concepts and methodologies from other classical sciences such as chemistry and physics. In general terms, biotechnology is any technological application related to living organisms , whether this relationship is due to the direct use of biological systems or indirect.

Characteristics

Biotechnology is a field that applies biological knowledge and techniques to develop products and processes that benefit various industries, including healthcare, agriculture, and environmental conservation. Here are some key characteristics of biotechnology:

  • Genetic Engineering: Biotechnology involves the manipulation and modification of genetic material, such as DNA, to create desired traits or products. This can be done by inserting, deleting, or altering genes in an organism. Genetic engineering is used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMOs), recombinant proteins, and gene therapies.
  • Bioprocessing: Biotechnology utilizes living organisms or their components to produce valuable products on a large scale. This can involve the use of microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to produce biofuels, pharmaceuticals, enzymes, and other bioproducts. Bioprocessing often involves fermentation, where microorganisms convert raw materials into desired products through metabolic processes.
  • Biomedical Applications: Biotechnology plays a crucial role in the field of medicine. It is used in the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines, therapeutic proteins, and gene therapies. For example, biotechnology has enabled the production of insulin for the treatment of diabetes and the development of personalized medicine based on an individual’s genetic profile.
  • Agricultural Applications: Biotechnology is employed in agriculture to enhance crop productivity, improve nutritional content, and increase resistance to pests, diseases, and environmental stressors. Genetically modified crops are developed to exhibit traits such as herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and increased nutritional value. Biotechnology also contributes to the development of sustainable farming practices and biopesticides.
  • Environmental Applications: Biotechnology is utilized in environmental conservation and remediation efforts. It includes the use of microorganisms to degrade pollutants, clean up oil spills, and remove contaminants from soil and water. Biotechnology also contributes to the development of renewable energy sources, such as biofuels derived from plant biomass.
  • Ethical Considerations: Biotechnology raises ethical concerns related to the potential risks and benefits associated with genetic modification and the use of living organisms. Ethical considerations include the impact on biodiversity, potential effects on human health, and the equitable distribution of biotechnological advancements.

In summary, biotechnology involves genetic engineering, bioprocessing, and has applications in medicine, agriculture, and the environment. It plays a significant role in the development of innovative products and processes that address various societal challenges. However, ethical considerations must be taken into account to ensure responsible and sustainable use of biotechnology.

Types of biotechnology

Since the emergence of biotechnology, this science has branched out due to the high applicability of its contributions. This has caused modern biotechnology to be subdivided into different types , to which colors have been associated to identify them. Although this classification of types of biotechnology is somewhat volatile and constantly changing, currently the following types can be found:

Red biotechnology

It is in charge of medicine and human health . Its objective is the improvement of the treatment of diseases or the complete cure of these. It includes techniques such as gene therapy, the creation of vaccines or regenerative medicine.

brown biotechnology

It is the one that serves veterinary applications . It develops drugs and vaccines for animals, while seeking the improvement of animal species of human interest and animal conservation.

Golden biotechnology

It is also known as computational biology , that is, it is related to bioinformatics . It includes protein sequencing, DNA sequencing and simulation of biological processes using computer models, among other applications.

Yellow biotechnology

It is the one in charge of food processes . It studies how to improve food preservation through additives, use of living organisms to produce food substances of interest (such as alcohol), production of products derived from milk, etc.

Green biotechnology

It includes everything related to the agricultural and plant world . The most important example is plant improvement, but it also deals with the production of biofertilizers, the production of transgenic vegetables or the control of pathogenic organisms in crops.

Blue biotechnology

It involves marine biotechnology and aquaculture . Use of marine microorganisms for the decontamination of water masses, production of cosmetics from aquatic microorganisms, development of food supplements using seaweed, etc.

purple biotechnology

It includes all the legal, ethical and philosophical aspects of the practice of biotechnology.

white biotechnology

Directly related to industrial applications . Some examples are the use of microorganisms to obtain plastics, the production of biofuels or the clarification of paper.

Gray biotechnology

It is the type of biotechnology that is responsible for collecting applications and techniques related to the conservation and study of ecosystems or environmental sciences in general. Some of its functions are the decontamination of soils through the use of microorganisms (also called bioremediation), elimination of heavy metals from the food chain or the conversion of polluting industrial gases into less polluting ones. Their methodologies are very diverse and their popularity has been on the rise for years.

black biotechnology

This last type is not always found in all classifications. Black biotechnology is linked to bioterrorism and biological warfare and weapons . Their contributions do not have to be intended for destruction or causing harm in the beginning, but these can be one of their applications. An example is the production of toxins by microorganisms that can cause illness or death in humans, livestock and crops.

What is biotechnology for?

As has been seen in the previous section, biotechnology is a science with a very wide field of application, so its usefulness is not reduced to a specific area, but rather the uses and applications of biotechnology are almost unlimited .

Dozens of uses could be extracted from each type of biotechnology, making this science present in our lives in very diverse ways . That is to say, biotechnology is not a science foreign to the majority of the human population; every day we are in contact with a multitude of products that have been created within this discipline.

Broadly speaking, it can be stated that biotechnology serves for the optimal production of products that the majority of the population uses on a daily basis, in addition to products that may be foreign to the majority of society, but are of great relevance within the scientific world such as, for example, reagents for analytical processes or medical techniques.

Examples of biotechnology

If we take a quick tour of the daily routines of most people, we come across a multitude of examples behind which there is a biotechnological development:

  • When eating breakfast, we often drink milk or milk products that have been produced thanks to the applications of yellow and brown biotechnology. It also applies to vegetable drinks or milks , whose production is optimized by yellow and green biotechnology.
  • When we brush our teeth we are probably also using a product developed thanks to biotechnology, since many toothpastes contain diatom skeletons as an abrasive agent, where blue biotechnology comes into play.
  • If we travel to our place of work or study by public transport, in many cities around the world the buses use biofuel , so white biotechnology would be participating in this moment of our day.
  • When we buy a drink from a coffee machine on our break, the plastic or laminated paper cup has been produced thanks to the contributions of white biotechnology.
  • During mealtime, the foods we eat are closely related to yellow, green and brown biotechnology. Here you can read about Human Nutrition .
  • Once at home, it would not be unusual to take medication to deal with headaches or stress generated at work or other situations. Once again, this is an example of the usefulness of biotechnology, specifically red biotechnology.
  • The shampoo, body wash and moisturizing creams that we use during or after showering have been produced thanks to white biotechnology.
  • These are just some examples of common use of products developed thanks to biotechnology, but apart from our daily lives, biotechnology has many more applications and uses.

Advantages and disadvantages of biotechnology

As with everything in the world, biotechnology has its advantages and also its disadvantages:

Advantages of biotechnology

As highlighted in this BIOencyclopedia article, modern biotechnology has numerous advantages, among which we can highlight some already mentioned and others that have not yet been mentioned:

  • Possible reduction in pesticide application by using genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
  • Improvement in human and livestock nutrition.
  • Improvement of medicine and veterinary medicine .
  • Better food production performance.
  • Optimization of the production process of other substances of interest, such as cosmetic components.
  • Obtaining medications.

Disadvantages of biotechnology

But not everything is purely positive in biotechnology, as there are also examples of possible risks or adverse effects derived from this science:

  • Use of animals in experimentation , which represents an important ethical conflict.
  • Risks of cross-pollination between GMOs and non-modified organisms, leading to more resistant varieties of undesirable plants.
  • Possible loss of biodiversity due to monoculture of more desirable varieties produced through biotechnology.
  • Risk that microorganisms modified to have resistance to antibiotics escape from the laboratory and reach the human population or the natural environment.
  • Generation of pathogenic agents intentionally for use in wars, terrorist actions and any type of armed conflict.
  • Unemployment and exodus in rural areas due to the optimization of mechanical or industrial actions by biotechnology.

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