Biotechnology is technology that utilizes biological systems, living organisms or parts of this to develop or create different products.
Brewing and baking bread are examples of processes that fall within the concept of biotechnology (use of yeast (= living organism) to produce the desired product). Such traditional processes usually utilize the living organisms in their natural form (or further developed by breeding), while the more modern form of biotechnology will generally involve a more advanced modification of the biological system or organism.
With the development of genetic engineering in the 1970s, research in biotechnology (and other related areas such as medicine, biology etc.) developed rapidly because of the new possibility to make changes in the organisms’ genetic material (DNA).
Today, biotechnology covers many different disciplines (eg. genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, etc.). New technologies and products are developed every year within the areas of eg. medicine (development of new medicines and therapies), agriculture (development of genetically modified plants, biofuels, biological treatment) or industrial biotechnology (production of chemicals, paper, textiles and food).
The main action areas for biotechnology as important in research and development activities can be seen as falling into three main categories:
- Industrial supplies (biochemicals, enzymes and reagents for industrial and food processing);
- Energy (fuels from renewable resources)
- Environment (pollution diagnostics, products for pollution prevention, bioremediation).
The start of the 21st century has found biotechnology emerging as a key enabling technology for sustainable environmental protection. The requirement for alternative chemicals, feedstocks for fuels, and a variety of commercial products has grown dramatically in the early years of the 21st century, driven by the high price of petroleum, policies to promote alternatives and reduce dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and increasing efforts to reduce net emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The social, environmental and economic benefits of environmental biotechnology go hand-in-hand to contribute to the development of a more sustainable society.