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Biotechnology is technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use. It is an interdisciplinary field involving Agriculture, Microbiology, Cell biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Food technology, Environmental Engineering, etc.
Depending on the tools and applications, it often overlaps with the (related) fields of bioengineering, biomedical engineering, biomanufacturing, molecular engineering, and many more areas. Sometimes it also interacts with fields like bioinformatics, a new brand of computer science, bioprocess engineering, biorobotics, chemical engineering etc.
A series of derived terms have been coined to identify several branches of biotechnology; for example:
Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that addresses biological problems using computational techniques, and makes the rapid organization as well as analysis of biological data possible. The field may also be referred to as computational biology, and can be defined as, "conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules and then applying informatics techniques to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large scale." Bioinformatics plays a key role in various areas, such as functional genomics, structural genomics, and proteomics, and forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.
Blue biotechnology is a term that has been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.
Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example would be the selection and domestication of plants via micropropagation. Another example is the designing of transgenic plants to grow under specific environments in the presence (or absence) of chemicals. One hope is that green biotechnology might produce more environmentally friendly solutions than traditional industrial agriculture. An example of this is the engineering of a plant to express a pesticide, thereby ending the need of external application of pesticides. An example of this would be Bt corn. Whether or not green biotechnology products such as this are ultimately more environmentally friendly is a topic of considerable debate.
Red biotechnology is applied to medical processes. Some examples are the designing of organisms to produce antibiotics, and the engineering of genetic cures through genetic manipulation.
White biotechnology, also known as industrial biotechnology, is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example is the designing of an organism to produce a useful chemical. Another example is the using of enzymes as industrial catalysts to either produce valuable chemicals or destroy hazardous/polluting chemicals. White biotechnology tends to consume less in resources than traditional processes used to produce industrial goods.
The investment and economic output of all of these types of applied biotechnologies is termed as "bioeconomy".
Now let us see how Biotechnology is revolutionizing several fields.
Biotechnology of Medicine: Biotechnology is making several inroads into pharmacology like discovery and production of new antibiotics. Pharmacogenomics (a combination of pharmacology and genomics) is the technology that analyses how genetic makeup affects an individual's response to drugs. It deals with the influence of genetic variation on drug responses in patients by correlating gene expression with a drug's efficacy or toxicity. Biotechnology has contributed to the discovery and manufacturing of traditional small molecule pharmaceutical drugs as well as drugs that are the product of biotechnology – biopharmaceutics. The first genetically engineered products were medicines designed to treat human diseases. For example, synthetic humanized insulin is being produced joining its gene with a plasmid vector inserted into the bacterium Escherichia coli.
Tissue engineering is a set of methods that can replace or repair damaged or diseased tissues with natural, synthetic, or semisynthetic tissue mimics. These mimics can either be fully functional or will grow into the required functionality.
A biologic is a therapeutic substance that is produced through a biological process (often involving biotechnology methods), rather than chemical synthesis (as for traditional pharmaceuticals). Types of biologic include antibody therapies, vaccines, gene therapies ( involves the introduction of new genes into cells, to restore or add gene expression, for the purpose of treating disease. Most commonly a mutated gene is replaced with DNA encoding a functional copy. Alternatively DNA encoding a therapeutic protein drug may be introduced)and cell therapies.
Biotechnology in Agriculture: Plant biotechnology can be defined as the introduction of desirable traits into plants through genetic modification. Genetically modified crops ("GM crops", or "biotech crops") are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified with genetic engineering techniques to enhance production, make crops resistant to diseases, pests, chemical treatments, to withstand drought, soil conditions, environmental conditions, to make them produce of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels etc.
I must add here that there is a scientific consensus ( the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, based on data enhanced evidence ) that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food must be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction.
Industrial Biotechnology: Industrial biotechnology (also called as as white biotechnology) or applied microbiology is the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes, use of microorganisms in industrial processes including industrial fermentation. It includes the practice of using cells such as micro-organisms, or components of cells like enzymes, to generate industrially useful products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles, electricity and biofuels. In doing so, biotechnology uses renewable raw materials and may contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a petrochemical-based economy.
Environmental Biotechnology: It is the branch of biotechnology that addresses environmental problems, such as the removal of pollution, renewable energy generation or biomass production, by exploiting biological processes. Cleaning up environmental wastes using microbes is an example of an application of environmental biotechnology; whereas loss of biodiversity or loss of containment of a harmful microbe are examples of environmental implications of biotechnology. Handling of unpredictable environments with efficiency using biotechnical methods is the latest development in this field.
Animal biotechnology: It is a branch of biotechnology in which molecular biology techniques are used to genetically engineer (i.e. modify the genome of) animals in order to improve their suitability for pharmaceutical, agricultural or industrial applications. Animal biotechnology has been used to produce genetically modified animals that synthesize therapeutic proteins, have improved growth rates or are resistant to disease.
Biomimetics: This is an interdisciplinary field in which principles from engineering, chemistry and biology are applied to the synthesis of materials, synthetic systems or machines that have functions that mimic biological processes. Biomaterials are any natural or synthetic material that interacts with any part of a biological system. Biomimetic designs could be used in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and drug delivery.
Molecular engineering: This field includes methods for the design and synthesis of novel molecules with desirable physical properties or functionalities.
Nanobiotechnology: This is a discipline in which tools from nanotechnology are developed and applied to study biological phenomena. For example, nanoparticles can serve as probes, sensors or vehicles for biomolecule delivery in cellular systems.
Nano Tech Marvels
Art work by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa (from http:///www.kkartfromscience.com )
Stem-cell biotechnology: This is a field of biotechnology that develops tools and therapeutics through modification and engineering of stem cells. Stem cell biotechnology is important in regenerative medicine.
Biorobotics is often used to refer to a real subfield of robotics of studying how to make robots that emulate or simulate living biological organisms mechanically or even chemically.