Definition History and Scope of Biotechnology

Biotechnology, broadly defined, includes any technique that uses living organisms, or parts of such organisms, to make or modify products, to improve plants or animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific use. It ranges from traditional biotechnology to the most advanced modern biotechnology. Biotechnology is not a separate science but rather a mix of disciplines (genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, embryology, and cell biology) converted into productive processes by linking them with such practical disciplines as chemical engineering, information technology, and robotics. Modern biotechnology should be seen as an integration of new techniques with the well-established approaches of traditional biotechnology such as plant and animal breeding, food production, fermentation products and processes, and production of pharmaceuticals and fertilizers (Doyle and Persley 1996).

The key components of modern biotechnology are listed below.

(i) Genomics: The molecular characterization of all genes in a species.

(ii) Bioinformatics: The assembly of data from genomic analysis into accessible forms, involving the application of information technology to analyze and manage large data sets resulting from gene sequencing or related techniques.

(iii) Transformation: The introduction of one or more genes conferring potentially useful traits into plants, livestock, fish and tree species.

(iv) Genetically improved organism.

(v) Genetically modified organism (GMO).

(vi) Living modified organism (LMO).

(vii) Molecular breeding: Identification and evaluation of useful traits in breeding programs by the use of marker-assisted selection (MAS);

(viii) Diagnostics: The use of molecular characterization to provide more accurate and quicker identification of pathogens; and

(ix) Vaccine technology: The use of modern immunology to develop recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (rDNA) vaccines for improved control of livestock and fish diseases (Doyle and Persley 1999).

Biotechnology consists of a gradient of technologies, ranging from the long-established and widely used techniques of traditional biotechnology to novel and continuously evolving modem biotechnology techniques (Figure 2.1).

During the 1970s scientists developed new methods for precise recombination of portions of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the biochemical material in all living cells that governs inherited characteristics, and for transferring portions of DNA from one organism to another. This set of enabling techniques is referred to as rDNA technology or genetic engineering.

Modern biotechnology presently includes the various uses of new techniques of rDNA technology, monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies, and new cell and tissue culture methods. A chronology of the development of modern biotechnology is given in Table 2.1. Over the past two decades the number of significant advances in modern biotechnology for

Figure 2.1 Gradient of Biotechnologies

Modern biotechnology

Genomics Genetic engineering of animals Genetic engineering of plants Recombinant DNA technology Clonal and polyclonal antibody production Embryo transfer in animals Plant tissue culture Biological nitrogen fixation Microbial fermentation Traditional biotechnology

Increasing complexity

Source: Persley (1990) and Doyle and Persley (1996).

understanding and modifying the genetics of living organisms has increased dramatically. That has led to greatly increased interest and investment in biotechnology, and increasing concerns as to the power of the new technologies and their safety (see Appendix 1 for details).

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