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Biotechnology can be defined as a technology that utilizes “biological phenomena for copying and manufacturing various useful substances” (Smith 3). Biotechnology was initially an artisan ability and not a science. This technology involved producing beer, cheese and bread among other related products, where processes were carried out in an accurate manner.
These processes were also reproducible. However, the role played by the microorganisms in these processes was not known up to the time the experiments were carried out by people like Pasteur and Anton van and established this.
Towards the mid-twentieth century, there were swift developments in the processes of “aseptic fermentation” and these led to the production of useful substances such as penicillin, steroids and amino acids among others. This move created a fresh variety of biotechnology industries (Smith 2).
Moreover, the technology linked to applied genetics as well as “recombinant DNA” came up and brought improvement in the industrial micro-organisms and facilitated creation of fresh aspects in animal as well as crop production.
It is found out that at the present, the “recombinant drug production” is a greatly significant biotechnology aspect (Smith 2). All through its history, biotechnology has clearly been offering great opportunities to the improvement of human life in terms of medicine, industry as well as nutrition and it can be projected that this trend will go on even in the future.
History of Biotechnology
Biotechnology has its roots in the ancient times. In the past, one of the most common techniques that were used in food production was fermentation. This technique is possibly the oldest biotechnological innovation. A long time before the existence of microorganisms was discovered, the microorganisms had been exploited in order to meet the human needs.
There had been milk preservation as well as preservation of vegetables among other foods. Moreover, microorganisms had been used in producing bread, cheese and beverages among other products. Yeast was used in those ancient times, for instance, in making wine and beer in 7000 BC.
At around 4000 BC, the ancient Egyptians had made a discovery that C02 that was obtained by using the brewer’s yeast could be used in leavening bread (Demain 17). Wine was also a product that was produced through the process of fermentation during the ancient times in Assyria at around 3500 BC.
Moreover, biotechnology started playing a great role in protecting the health of human beings during the ancient times. For instance, the vinegar that was produced was used in Assyria in treating the “chronic middle ear diseases” (Demain 17). The Hippocrates also used this substance in treating patients at around the year 400BC (Demain 17).
Later in time, in the year 1864, Louis Pasteur who was a French chemist, set up a process which is currently known as pasteurization (Demain 18). This is a process where heat is utilized in the destroying of dangerous organisms in the food products. The food products are put in a container and sealed tightly after being exposed to high temperatures in order to keep the food safe.
The scientific breakthrough achieved by Louis Pasteur played a very big role in enhancing the life quality and made it possible to transport such food products as milk for long distances without having the milk getting spoilt (Demain 18). After Pasteur using his microscope, he discovered that fermentation broth did not just have the cells of yeast but contained bacteria as well.
He already had the knowledge that these could lead to the production of lactic acid. This is how he came up with a conclusion that the souring of the milk could be prevented by heating the milk and putting it in a tightly closed container, a process referred to as pasteurization (Demain 19).
Another important innovation in the field of biotechnology was realized one year later after Pasteur’s invention. Gregor Mendel engaged in keenly studying the heredity principle. Gregor Mendel was an Australian monk and a plant scientist.
He carried out his research using peas and was able to cross-breed the traits like the size of the pea’s pod as well as the color of the pea. This scientist was able to show that the differences like the color and height of the plant resulted from inheriting of traits as well as genes (Demain 53).
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It has also been found out that, at the start of the 1900s, Henry Wallace, a professional in the field of agriculture, engaged in applying the hybridization principles in order to set up new seeds that are more productive.
Coming before the era where there is more advanced cross-breeding and ultimately biotechnology, this method involves a situation where the varieties are crossed with an intention of producing crops that have more desirable traits. The frequently inaccurate plant breeding old-style process consumes much time to manage for the desirable traits (Demain 54).
Moreover, there was also setting up of the organizations for carrying out investigations about the process of fermentation, by such people as Pasteur and Koch in the course of the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, agriculture started to be combined with industry by biotechnology.
In the course of the First World War, the processes of fermentation were set up in order to carry out production of acetone from the solvents of paints as well as starch to be used by the vehicle industry, which was expanding at a very high rate. In the course of the Second World War, the production of penicillin commenced.
This antibiotic was used in the treatment of those who had been injured in the war (Demain 23). The attention of biotechnology had now shifted to the production of medicines. During the cold war period, there was widespread use of microorganisms in making arrangements for the biological combat (Goodman 14).
During the early 1950s, existence of DNA was discovered. Before that time, people were not aware of where genes were located. In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the DNA structure. These two scientists engaged in improving the “DNA structural model”, formerly discovered by Rosalind (Demain 53).
Getting to have full knowledge about DNA was quite vital in exploring biotechnology. By using biotechnology, experts could engage in expressing the desirable traits by transferring DNA from a particular living organism to the other.
Right from the start, the scientists identified the prospect for fresh drugs made with an intention of assisting the body to carry out the activities that it could otherwise not be able to perform. They also discovered the potential for the crops being in a position of offering protection themselves against diseases.
For instance, by using biotechnology, the scientists have been able to develop corn plants which are resistant to the attacks by rootworms. The farmers encounter an annual cost of one billion dollars following the attacks on the corn plants by the rootworm (Demain 56).
In the year 1973, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen worked to assist diabetic individuals by taking the genetic materials from the DNA of one organism and copied these materials onto the DNA of another organism (Demain 55). This is how insulin started being given to people who needed it.
The role of insulin within the body is to control the amount of sugar in the blood that makes it possible to have normal functioning of the body. The occurrence of diabetes takes place in the situation where there is no production of insulin by the body or where this production is not sufficient.
Individuals having insulin normally need to be given insulin through injection. Initially, physicians used the insulin obtained from animals such as pigs and gave it to the diabetics through administering of injections.
But these researchers were not aware of the effects of giving human beings insulin that had been extracted from animals. For the first time, in the year 1978, Herbert Boyer extracted human DNA materials and took the insulin gene from these materials. He was able to do this by employing biotechnology.
Boyer then put the gene into bacteria and this made it possible for the gene to produce a bigger amount of insulin for the people who were suffering from diabetes. This scientific development brought in great improvement of the diabetic people’s quality of life and they were now assured of safety (Demain 57).
To this day, biotechnology goes on developing. In the course of the 1980s, there was commencement, there was introducing of the new varieties of corn and soybean, which protect themselves. During the same period, government of the United States of America made approval of eighteen crops that are technology-derived.
Moreover, in the current day, there is ongoing R&D aimed at improving agricultural productivity as well as enhancing the nutritional value of foods across the world. Moreover, other than in agriculture, biotechnology is as well being utilized in various other industries such as food processing, bioremediation as well as in energy production.
In addition, considering the field of forensics, DNA fingerprinting has as well turned out to be a prevalent practice in this field. Related techniques were utilized in the recent days in identifying the last Czar ’s bones together with a number of his family members (Demain 59).
Furthermore, the immunoassays are currently being utilized for undertaking detection of the pesticide levels that are not safe as well as the unsafe levels of toxins in the animal products and also on the crops. The assays as well offer fast field examinations for the industrial chemicals which are found in soil and also in ground water and sediment (Smith 5).
In conclusion, it has been found out that it is actually true that; throughout its history, biotechnology has clearly offered great opportunities to the improvement of human life in terms of medicine, industry as well as nutrition and it can be projected that this trend will go on even in the future. It is clear that there have been various significant discoveries which have played a major part in developing the biotechnology sector.
The current day microbiology techniques use various molecular methods which have been set up in the course of the past several years. These have come up as a consequence of discovering DNA, restriction, enzymes and cloning techniques among others.
But on the other hand, before people came to be aware about the existence of a gene; they were undertaking manipulation of cells in a manner that was quite industrious. They did this with an intention of ensuring improved food production and to improve crops also in order to produce chemicals.
The people’s quality of life has improved following the developments that have been made in biotechnology. For instance, in the current day, the level of food production has increased due to the application of biotechnological techniques in both crop and animal production.
Moreover, these techniques have also been applied in the medical field, like in dealing with such diseases as diabetes and the production of antibiotics, and in energy production among other fields.
However, it is also important to note that the opportunities that are currently being offered to improve the quality of life have always been presented by biotechnology beginning from the time it started being applied in the ancient times. This technology has made it possible to produce wine and preserve milk among other benefits, right from the ancient times.
Major developments have been made continuously in this field over time and they are still being made in the current day. This gives an assurance that, since biotechnology will continue undergoing more and more developments, this will lead to continual improvement in the quality of people’s lives.
There is enough proof to give an indication that biotechnology will continue being an important technology that will continue changing the world positively.
Bud, Robert, and Mark F. Cantley. The Uses of Life: A History of Biotechnology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.
Demain, Arnold.” History of Industrial biotechnology” Eds. Industrial Biotechnology: Sustainable growth and economic success. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. 2010. Pp. 17 – 77.
Goodman, David C., From Farming to Biotechnology: A Theory of Agro-industrial Development. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987. Print.
Smith, John Edward. “A concise history of biotechnology – some key determinants.” Biotechnology, 1.1 (2010): 1-10.