What is biotechnology?
The most simple definition available is that Biotechnology is the use of biological processes to solve problems and to make useful products. On this definition we have been using Biotechnology for thousands of years. We have used the biological processes of micro-organisms to brew beer and wine, and to make foods like bread and cheese.
Major advances in science from the 1950s, and particularly in the last years of the 20th century, have extended the reach of Biotechnology so that its applications today would seem the stuff of science fiction to the early pioneers of the 1950s. These advances have given rise to what many now call "New" Biotechnology - the use of cellular and biomolecular processes to solve problems or make useful products. This collection of technologies now capitalizes on the attributes of cells, such as their manufacturing capabilities, and uses the properties of biological molecules such as DNA and proteins in productive ways to synthesize outcomes for the benefit of all. A Biotech Guide is available.
Some world-wide examples of Biotechnology in practice today include:
- the hundreds of drug products and vaccines targeting a myriad of diseases including Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and arthritis
- the hundreds of medical diagnostic tests to detect medical conditions early enough for them to be successfully treated
- agricultural products such as pest-resistant corn that have been developed using biotechnology
- the use of biotechnology to remediate hazardous waste
- industrial applications such as the use of enzymes in laundry detergent
- DNA fingerprinting in forensic situations
Market practice in Australia is to take a broader view of Biotechnology as including activities such as the development and manufacture of medical devices, diagnostic equipment and drug delivery mechanisms. That is why companies such as Cochlear Limited and Resmed Inc are often included in the Biotechnology classification, even though in other countries like the US, they would be considered Medical Device companies and not biotechnology.