What is biotechnology?
Everyone’s talking about biotechnology, but it can mean many different things. Biotechnology has its hand in drugs, detergents, as well as in bread and beer. It is a classic cross-section technology, drawing not only on such disciplines as biology and biochemistry, but also encompassing physics, chemistry, engineering, materials science and computer science. At the heart of biotechnology is the application of science and technology to living organisms.
Biotechnology is a collective term for an incredible number of processes, products and methodologies. According to the definition from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), biotechnology is “the application of science and technology to living organisms, as well as parts, products and models thereof, to alter living or non-living materials for the production of knowledge, goods and services”.
In other words: The application possibilities of biotechnology are not limited to a single area, but are in fact extremely varied. Biotechnologists conduct research into large and small organisms, plants, animals and humans, but also into the very smallest components, such as individual cells or molecules. As a branch of science, biotechnology is also not as young as some might think. For millennia, people have made use of living microorganisms in their daily lives, for example in the production of beer, wine and bread. Modern biotechnology - as it is applied today - is characterised most of all by the targeted utilisation of the methods of molecular biology. The fundamentals for this area of science were first laid down in the 18th and 19th Centuries as the knowledge surrounding microbiology began to grow. For example, with the discovery of the first enzymes as biocatalysts, or of bacteria as producers of substances.
Today, biotechnology is multitalented. It is used to develop new medicines, breed new varieties of crops, or make the manufacturing of everyday products such as detergents and cosmetics more efficient. To distinguish these different application areas, a colour code has emerged: Thereby, a distinction is made between red, green and white biotechnology, which refers to the areas of medicine (red), agriculture (green) and industry (white).