Biotechnology is the art of utilizing living organisms and their products for the production of food, drink, medicine or for other benefits to the human race, or other animal species. Therefore, biotechnology is concerned with exploitation of biological agents/ their components for production of useful products. It has been broadly defined as “The development and utilization of biological processes, forms and systems for obtaining maximum benefits to man and other forms of life”.

Thus the two main features of biotechnology are as follows: 1) Utilization of biological entities (microorganisms, cells of higher organisms- either living/dead), their components/constituents (cg. Enzyme) in such a way that-

2) Some product/service is generated. This product/service should obviously enhance human welfare.

Father of Biotechnology is Louis Pasteur &father of the term ‘Biotechnology’ is Karl Ereky an Hungarian engineer The term biotechnology was coined in 1919. At that time, the term meant all the lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with the aid of living organisms.

Branches of biotechnology

Biotechnology has several different branches which are referred to by different terms mainly marked with different colors to describe the biotechnological field that it is used in. The most widely used ones will be introduced here. First of all there is the

Red biotechnology that is used for medical processes, like finding genetic cures by going through genomic manipulations and creating organisms to produce antibiotics.

Green biotechnology is used for agricultural processes. Some examples of that would be the development of transgenic plants that are designed to survive under specific environmental conditions. A big goal of the green biotechnology is to develop more environment friendly solutions, for example to find a way remove the need for pesticides.

White biotechnology. This kind of biotechnology is used to reduce the costs for producing industrial goods. For example, white biotechnology can develop an organism that is able to produce a certain beneficial chemical by natural processes rather than by industrial ways that it was done beforehand.

Blue biotechnology that deals with marine and aquatic usages of biotechnology, but that is not very widely used.

History of Biotechnology

Technically speaking, humans have been making use of biotechnology since they discovered farming, with the planting of seeds to control plant growth and crop production. Animal breeding is also a form of biotechnology. More recently, cross-pollination of plants and cross-breeding of animals were macro-biological techniques in biotechnology, used to enhance product quality and/or meet specific requirements or standards. Today, pioneers of biotechnology are discovering new solutions for better feed, food and consumer products. They are building on the knowledge we gained through the scientific innovations of earlier pioneers such as the Egyptians, Christopher Columbus, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, James Watson and Francis Crick, and Herbert Boyer. See how past discoveries have enhanced quality of life.


6000 BC Yeast was used to make beer by Sumerians and Babylonians.

4000 BC The Egyptians discovered how to bake leavened bread using yeast.

Other fermentation processes were established in the ancient world notably in China.

Molds were used to produce cheese, vinegar and wine were manufactured by fermentation. The fermentation of milk by lactic acid bacteria resulted in yogurt.

400 BC Hippocrates determined that male contribution to a child’s heredity is carried in the semen. By analogy, he guessed there is a similar fluid in women. Since children receive traits from each in equal proportion.

320 BC Aristotle rejected the theory of Hippocrates, said that all inheritance comes from the father’s semen, while the mother merely provides the material from which the baby is made. He suggested that female babies are caused by “interference” from the mother’s blood.

1100-1700 AD Theory of spontaneous generation, i.e., organisms arise from non-living matter was proposed.

1665 AD Robert Hooke observed the cellular structure for the first time.

1673 AD Anton van Leeuwenhoek used his microscopes to make discoveries in microbiology.


1701 Giacomo Pylarini in Constantinople practiced “inoculation”.

1798 Edward Jenner published his book comparing vaccination (infecting humans with cowpox to induce resistance to smallpox) to inoculation (infecting humans with a putatively mild strain of smallpox to induce resistance to serve strain of the same).

1799 Lazaro Spallanzani described ingeniously crafted experiments to test the possibility of using heat to kill all the microbes in an “infusim”.

1809 Nicolas Appert devised a technique using heat to can and sterilize food.

1850 Ignza Semmelweis used epidemiological observations to propose the hypothesis that childbed fever can be spread from mother to mother by physicians.

1856 Louis Pasteur proved that fermentation is the result of yeast and bacterial activity.

1859 Charles Darwin hypothesized that animal populations adapt their forms over time to best exploit the environment, a process he referred to as “natural selection”. He emphasized on his idea of “survivial of the fittest”. His landmark book, “On the Origin of species”, was published in London.

1863 Louis Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization, heating wine sufficiently to inactivate microbes, while at the same time not ruining the flavour of the wine.

1865 Gregor Mendel presented his laws of heredity to the Natural Science Society in Brunn, Austria.

1870 W. Flemming discovered mitosis.

1871 DNA was isolated from the sperm of trout found in the Rhine River.

1873-6 Robert Koch investigated anthrax and developed techniques to view, grow and stain organisms.

1878 Joseph Lister described the “most probable number” technique, the first method for the isolation of pure cultures of bacteria.

1880 Pasteur published his work on “attenuated” strains.

1881 Pasteur used attenuation to develop vaccines against the bacterial pathogens of fowl cholera and anthrax.

1882 Walther Flemming reported his discovery of chromosomes.

1884 Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine.

1892 Iranovsky reported that the causative agent of tobacco mosaic disease is transmissible, and can pass through filters that trap the smallest bacteria. Such agents are called “viruses”

1896 Wilhelm Kolle developed cholera and typhoid vaccines.

1897 Eduard Buchner demonstrated that fermentation can occur with an extract of yeast in the absence of intact yeast cells.

Ronald Ross discovered Plasmodium (the protozoan that causes malaria) in the female Anopheles mosquito and showed the mosquito transmits the disease agent from one person to another.

1900 Walter Reed established that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, the first time a human disease was shown to be caused by a virus.


1900 Mendel’s work was rediscovered by three scientists – Hugo de Vries, Erich Von Tschermak, and Carl Correns.

William Sutton observed homologous pairs of chromosomes in grasshopper cells.

1904 William Bateson introduced the concept of now known ‘ gene linkage’ and ‘genetic maps’ that describe the order of the linked genes.

1907 Thomas Hunt Morgan in his work with fruit flies proved that chromosomes have a definite function in heredity, established mutation theory and led to a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of heredity.

1908 BCG vaccine against TB was developed.

A.E. Garrod described “inborn errors of metabolism”

1928 Fredrick Griffiths noticed that a rough type of bacterium changed to a smooth type and discovered Transformation.

1935 Stanley crystallized TMV.

1936 Stanley isolated nucleic acids from TMV.

1939 Gautheret cultivated carrot callus cultivars.

1940-1945 Large scale production of penicillin was achieved.

1941 “One gene on enzyme” hypothesis by Beadle and Tatum.

1944 Avery, McCarty and MacLeod determined that DNA is the hereditary material inherited in transformation.

1951 Esther M. Lederberg discovered lambda phage.

1952 Zinder and Heidelberg discovered Transduction process.

1953 Watson and Crick proposed the double stranded, helical complementary, anti-parallel model for DNA.


1953 Gey developed the HeLa human cell line.

1957 Francis crick and George Gamov worked out the “central dogma”, explaining new DNA functions to make protein.

1958 Kornberg discovered and isolated DNA polymerase, which became the first enzyme for DNA manipulation in vitro.

1962 Watson and crick shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Maurice Wilkins.

1966 The genetic code was “cracked”. Marshall Nierenberg, Heinrich Mathaei, and Ochoa demonstrated that a sequence of three nucleotide bases (codon) determines each of 20 amino acids.

1967 Many Weiss and Howard Green developed somatic cell hybridization where human cells and mouse cells were grown together in one culture.

1970 Howard Terrion and David Baltimore, working independently, first isolated “reverse transcriptase”.

1972 Paul Berg isolated and employed a restriction enzyme to cut DNA; he used ligase to join two DNA strands together to form a hybrid circular molecule. This was the first recombinant DNA molecule.

1973 Bruce Ames developed Ames test to identify carcinogenic substances.

1975 Kohler and Milstein fused cells together to produce monoclonal antibodies.

1976 Herbert Boyer and Robert Swanson founded Genetech, Inc., a biotechnology company dedicated to developing and marketing products based on recombinant DNA technology.


1977 Genentech, Inc, reports the production of the first human protein manufactured in a bacteria: somatostatin, a human growth hormone factor.

Maxam and Gilbert devised a method for sequencing DNA using chemicals.

1978 Genetech, Inc, and the City of Hope National Medical center announced the successful laboratory production of human insulin using recombinant DNA technology.

1979 John Baxter reported cloning the gene for human growth hormone.

1980 Researchers introduced a human gene (that codes for the protein interferon) into a bacterium.

Kary Mullis invented a technique for multiplying DNA sequences in vitro, i.e. polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

1981 Genentech, Inc, cloned interferon gamma.

First transgenic animals was produced by transferring genes from other animals into mice.

1982 Genentech, Inc, received approval from the FDA to market genetically engineered human insulin.

Applied Biosystems, Inc, introduced the first commercial gas phase protein sequencer, dramatically reducing the amount of protein sample needed for sequencing.

1983 Eli Lilly received a License to make insulin.

1985 Genetically engineered plants resistant to insects, viruses, and bacteria were field tested for the first time.

1986 VC Berkeley and chemist Peter Schultz described new method to combine antibodies and enzymes creating “abzymes”.

1990 First gene therapy took place, on a 4-year old gird with an Immune system disorder called ADA deficiency.

The Human Genome Project, the international effort to map all of the genes in the human body, was launched.

1994 First genetically engineered food product, the Flavr Savr tomato was produced.

1997 Cloning of Dolly, the sheep by Ian Wilmut.

Artificial human chromosomes created for the first time.

Fellistin, a recombinant follicle stimulating hormone, approved for treatment of infertility.

Complete genomes of Borrelia burgdorferi, E.Coli and H. Pyroli were sequenced.

1998 Two research teams succeeded in growing embryonic stem cells.

A rough draft of the human genome map produced, showing the locations of more than 30,000 genes.

Gerhardt and James A. Thomson multiplied human embryonic stem cells.

Neuronal stem cells were discovered.

2000 Human Genome project was reported to be completed.

Human chromosome 20 sequenced completely.

2002 Scientists complete the draft sequence of the most important pathogen of rice, a fungus that destroys enough rice to feed 60 million people annually. By combining an understanding of the genomes of the fungus and rice, scientists will elucidate the molecular basis of the interactions between the plant and pathogen.

2003 Dolly, the cloned sheep that made headlines in 1997, is euthanized after developing progressive lung disease. Dolly was the first successful clone of a mammal

Soon after that, new soybean and corn crop varieties that protect themselves were introduced. Three years after the FlavrSavr tomato’s introduction, 18 biotechnology-derived crops were approved by the U.S. government, and research and development continues to improve agricultural productivity and enhance foods’ nutritional value. Biotechnology is currently being used in many areas including agriculture, bioremediation, food processing, and energy production. DNA fingerprinting is becoming a common practice in forensics. Production of insulin and other medicines is accomplished through cloning of vectors that now carry the chosen gene. Immunoassays are used not only in medicine for drug level and pregnancy testing, but also by farmers to aid in detection of unsafe levels of pesticides, herbicides and toxins on crops and in animal products. These assays also provide rapid field tests for industrial chemicals in ground water, sediment, and soil. In agriculture, genetic engineering is being used to produce plants that are resistant to insects, weeds and plant diseases.

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