Biotechnology’s history

Beginning with the first agricultural settlements, people have been utilising biological processes to enhance their quality of life for over 10,000 years. Humans began to use microbes’ biological processes to manufacture bread, alcoholic drinks, and cheese, as well as to preserve dairy goods, some 6,000 years ago. However, such processes are not included in today’s definition of biotechnology, which was coined to describe the molecular and cellular technologies that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. In the mid- to late 1970s, a nascent “biotech” sector emerged, led by Genentech, a pharmaceutical firm founded in 1976 by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert W. Boyer to commercialise Boyer, Paul Berg, and Stanley N. Cohen’s recombinant DNA technology. Genentech, Amgen, Biogen, Cetus, and Genex were among the first businesses to produce genetically altered molecules for medicinal and environmental purposes.

Recombinant DNA technology, often known as genetic engineering, dominated the biotechnology sector for more than a decade. Splicing the gene for a useful protein (typically a human protein) into production cells—such as yeast, bacteria, or mammalian cells in culture—causes the protein to start producing in large quantities. When splicing a cable, there are a few things to keep in mind. . A new creature is produced when a gene is spliced into a producing cell. Biotechnology investors and researchers were first unsure if the courts would enable them to get patents on organisms; after all, patents were not permitted on newly found and recognised creatures in nature. However, in the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the United States Supreme Court decided in 1980 that “a living human-made microbe is patentable subject matter.” This decision resulted in the formation of a slew of new biotechnology companies as well as the industry’s first investment boom. Recombinant insulin was the first genetically engineered product to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1982. . Since then, hundreds of genetically modified protein therapies, such as recombinant growth hormone, clotting factors, proteins that stimulate the creation of red and white blood cells, interferons, and clot-dissolving agents, have been sold across the world.

In a laboratory, a researcher purifies molecules for the manufacture of therapeutic proteins from biological material.
Alamy/Uwe Moser
Methodologies and tools
The capacity to create naturally occurring therapeutic compounds in bigger amounts than could be obtained from conventional sources such as plasma, animal organs, and human cadavers was the primary success of biotechnology in the early years. Pathogens are less likely to infect recombinant proteins, and allergic responses are less common. Biotechnology experts are now working to identify the underlying biological causes of disease and intervene precisely at that level. As with the first generation of biotech drugs, this might imply creating therapeutic proteins to supplement the body’s own resources or compensate for hereditary inadequacies. (A related procedure is gene therapy, which involves inserting genes encoding a required protein into a patient’s body or cells.)

The biotechnology sector has also increased its research into conventional medications and monoclonal antibodies that can halt disease progression. One of the most important biotechnology approaches to emerge in the final part of the twentieth century was the successful manufacture of monoclonal antibodies. Because of the specificity of monoclonal antibodies and their widespread availability, sensitive tests for a wide range of physiologically essential chemicals have been developed, as well as the capacity to differentiate cells by recognising hitherto identified marker molecules on their surfaces. The study of genes (genomics), the proteins that they encode (proteomics), and the wider biological pathways in which they function allowed for such advancements.

Biotechnology’s applications

Biotechnology offers a wide range of uses, including medicine and agriculture. Biotechnology could be used to merge biological information with computer technology (bioinformatics), or it could be used to investigate the use of microscopic equipment that can enter the human body (nanotechnology), or it could be used to replace dead or defective cells and tissues using stem cell research and cloning techniques. Biotechnology has been useful in refining industrial processes through the discovery and production of biological enzymes that spark chemical reactions (catalysts); in environmental cleanup with enzymes that digest contaminants into harmless chemicals and then die after consuming the available “food supply”; and in agricultural production through genetic engineering. Biotechnology’s agricultural uses have been the most contentious. Some environmentalists and consumer groups have proposed GMO bans or labelling regulations to alert people to the rising prevalence of GMOs in the food chain. GMOs were first introduced into agriculture in the United States in 1993, when the FDA authorised bovine somatotropin (BST), a growth hormone that increases milk output in dairy cows. The FDA authorised the first genetically modified whole product the following year, a tomato with a longer shelf life. Since then, dozens of agricultural GMOs have received regulatory clearance in the United States, Europe, and abroad, including crops that make their own insecticides and crops that resist the application of certain herbicides.
creatures that have been genetically modified
Scientific approaches, such as recombinant DNA technology, are used to create genetically engineered species.
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GMO foods have been found to be safe by studies conducted by the United Nations, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the European Union, the American Medical Association, US regulatory agencies, and other organisations, but sceptics argue that it is still too early to judge the long-term health and ecological effects of such crops. The land area planted in genetically modified crops expanded substantially in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, from 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) in 1996 to 180 million hectares (445 million acres) in 2014. Approximately 90% of maize, cotton, and soybeans cultivated in the United States were genetically modified by 2014–15. The Americas were home to the bulk of genetically modified crops.

Over the five-year period from 1996 to 2000, the revenues of the biotechnology sectors in the United States and Europe almost quadrupled. The development of new products, notably in health care, spurred rapid expansion far into the twenty-first century. The worldwide biotechnology market is expected to be worth $752.88 billion by 2020, with significant growth potential arising in particular from government and industry-led efforts to speed up medication research and product clearance procedures.