What is biotechnology?

The word biotechnology comes from the Greek words bios meaning life and technikos meaning involving human knowledge and skills. Biotechnology can be defined as the controlled and deliberate manipulation of biological systems, whether living cells or cell components, for the efficient manufacture or processing of useful products. It makes use of biological systems and processes to produce products and provide services.
In simple terms, biotechnology is the use of living organisms by humans. It is the science for our century and it involves biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computers and information technology to develop new tools and products.
We can distinguish between traditional and modern biotechnology. Traditional biotechnology refers to ancient ways of using living organisms to make new products or modify existing ones. An example of traditional biotechnology is what human beings have been doing for centuries: cloning plants. Each time a little branch is cut off from a plant and placed in soil to grow a new plant, cloning occurs. Over the past 30 years, biologists have increasingly applied the methods of physics, chemistry and mathematics in order to gain precise knowledge, at the molecular level, of how living cells make these substances. By combining this newly-gained knowledge with the methods of engineering and science, what has emerged is the concept of biotechnology which embraces all of the above-mentioned disciplines. With modern biotechnology we are not only doing the physical manipulation at the visual level but also at the molecular level. In modern molecular biotechnology, we select the desired characteristic at the molecular level and add it to the organism's genetic makeup. Whereas traditional biotechnology exploits  the potential of processes performed by living organisms, such as fermentation, modern biotechnology manipulates the genes of organisms and inserts them into other organisms to acquire the desired trait. However, both traditional and modern biotechnology share the same foundation:  the use of living organisms to enhance crops, fuels, medical treatments and other tools to help humans.
Humans have spent thousands of years selecting and cultivating the best traits that nature offers and now, with the help of biotechnology, nanotechnology and other sciences, we are able to improve these traits at the atomic level and develop safe and beneficial crops, medical treatments, biofuels and household products. Contemporary use of the term biotechnology  includes genetic engineering as well as bioengineering  that is the application of engineering principles in the fields of biology and medicine.

A. Read the text and answer the following questions:

1. What is biotechnology?

2. What is the difference between modern and traditional biotechnology?

3. What does modern biotechnology do?

4. What are the sciences involved in biotechnology?

5. What are the advantages of modern biotechnology?

B. Translate the following text:

Industrial biotech applications have led to cleaner processes that produce less waste and use less energy and water in such industrial sectors as chemicals, textiles, food, energy, metals and minerals. For example, most detergents contain biotechnology-based enzymes.

C. Write a short text about the advantages and disadvantages of biotechnology and the problems of manipulation of genes.

D. Read the following text to know the fundamental facts about genetics:

Genetics studies how genes (portions of DNA molecules that determine characteristics of living things) bring about their characteristics and how those characteristics are inherited.  It was developed by the German monk Gregor Mendel who performed his experiments from the 1860s. He believed that factors pass from parents to their offspring, but he did not know of the existence of DNA. Modern scientists discovered that genes are composed of segments of DNA that control discrete hereditary characteristics.  The gene composition of a living organism is its genotype. Genes can combine in various ways, but they always maintain their distinct identities.The set of all genes that specify an organism's traits is known as the organism's genome. October 1, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Human Genome Project.


E. Learn more:

1. Watch the following video for a general understanding of basic principles involved with molecular biology and plant sciences:


2. Visit The Genetic Science Learning Center, an internationally acclaimed science education program at the University of Utah:


3. Watch the video and learn more about Biotechnology, Cell Structure and Function presented by the Texas Education Agency. They explore the basic concepts of molecular biology, and compare and contrast the structure and function of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.


4. Visit the DNA from the Beginning, a site with animations, images and biographies about genetics:


5. Visit the Interactive Timeline of the Human Genome [unlockinglifescode.org]
An interactive, hyper-linked timeline of genetics that takes the reader from Mendel (1865) to the completion of the mapping of the human genome (2003).

6. Study carefully the following infographic about the HISTORY of BIOTECHNOLOGY:

A Timeline of Biotech #infographic

You can also find more infographics at Visualistan



Find here a list of online resources, including animation, images, video and audio files to help teachers enhance their lessons: