You may have heard of biotechnology, but what exactly is it? Maybe having some examples of biotechnology will help you understand what this powerful science trend is all about.
What Exactly is Biotechnology?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of biotechnology is:
the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful usually commercial products (such as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals); also: any of various applications of biological science used in such manipulation
Biotechnology does not have to refer to super-high tech, futuristic manipulations of genetic material as in some sort of dystopian science fiction movie. Biotechnology can be low-tech, such as the domestication and breeding of animals. Even agriculture is a form of biotechnology, and agriculture has been around in various forms for at least 100,000 years.
For example, in China, rice was domesticated as a crop between 13,500 and 8,200 years ago. Ancient Chinese farmers would have perhaps selected and bred the best rice, and by doing so, they changed the trajectory of the plant species.
Before modern technology, biotechnology would have mostly involved the purposeful selection of types and breeds of plants and animals, and the cultivation of those that best fit human needs for food, animal labor, and supplies (such as leather).
What Biotechnology Means in Today’s High-Tech World
Today, when we talk about biotechnology, we are probably most likely discussing advanced science and technology that is used to manipulate living cells, right down to the genetic level.
Biotechnology has many promising applications, especially in medicine, but it is also very controversial. We already have animal cloning. When we get to the point where humans can be cloned, many ethical issues will need to be hammered out and explored.
Does human interference with the basic building blocks of life come without risks? Are we playing God?
Even old-school biotechnology in the form of selective breeding has its problems. For example, many dog breeds are now in trouble because generations of breeding have left certain types of dogs, such as Dalmations, susceptible to genetic diseases.
5 Interesting (and Possibly Terrifying) Examples of Biotechnology
Let’s take a look at some of the interesting, and maybe a little scary, examples of biotechnology in use today.
1. Genetic Crop Manipulation
Many people do not want to eat foods that have been genetically modified, which is why so many food boxes now have labels that say “GMO-free.” (GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.)
However, advocates of genetically-modified foods say that their benefits outweigh the risks. Crops that are resistant to certain pests can have higher yields, which could help reduce problems of world hunger.
2. Pet Cloning (Hat Tip to Barbra Streisand)
Barbra Streisand has gotten a lot of flack from organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), but she has already gotten one of her dogs, Samantha, cloned – twice. While this option is only available to the very rich right now, it is sure to be made more affordable in the near future.
Don’t assume, however, that by cloning your dog that it will be the exact same dog. This begs the question – do dogs have souls? Streisand has found out that her two dogs cloned from Samantha are unique, independent creatures.
“They have different personalities,” Streisand said. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”
3. Human Gene Therapy
This is still primarily in the research and development phase, but ideally, when human gene therapy comes into its own, it will be used to alleviate or even cure troublesome diseases such as cancer and AIDS.
4. Alternative Sources of Fuel
Reducing our reliance on gasoline and petrochemicals is a good use of biotechnology. Biofuels can be created using plants as fuel sources instead of petroleum. Furthermore, we are even able to create “microscopic manufacturing plants” using yeast, enzymes, and other microbes.
When we talk about transhumans here, we are not talking about transgenders. However, the transgender’s ability to transition from one sex to another is a form of biotechnology, that is likely to be surpassed in the future by other types of body modifications.
People in the transhumanist movement want to lengthen the human lifespan, increase intelligence, and give people extraordinary powers. If you’ve watched enough sci-fi, then you are likely to be wary of this trend.
Want More Examples of Biotechnology?
You might want to search for one of the hundreds of biotechnology companies cropping up, with more being launched all the time. You can get a sense of what the future trends are by looking at what is now being developed and researched.