A Cool Blend of Science and Technology

Almost 9,000 years ago, ancient Chinese fermented rice, honey, and fruit. Ancient Egyptians dared to use yeast for leavened bread in 1000 BC. On the other side of the world, Aztecs made cakes with Spirulina algae. What do these foods and beverages have in common? It’s doubtful that any of these ancient peoples understood the science. Yet, they each performed an early bit of biotechnology. Biotechnology has grown from its humble origins into a cool blend of science and technology.

image of a strand of blue DNA against a dark blue background--one of the things we can now manipulate for biotechnology

What is Biotechnology?

Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky, coined the term in 1919. He invented the term to describe the creation of products from raw materials with the aid of living organisms. While the term is relatively new, humans have always manipulated raw materials hoping to make our life better. 

Don’t quite understand what biotech is yet? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary biotechnology is the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful products. The dictionary includes that these are usually commercial products (such as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or pharmaceuticals).

The History of Biotechnology

You may recognize many names in the history of Biotechnology. Names like Darwin, Mendel, Miescher, Boveri, Morgan, Levene, Chargraff, Avery, and many more. These are the folks whose discoveries built one on the other to allow many the cool blend of science and technology.

Here’s a six-minute video that traces the discoveries of DNA, genes, and chromosomes “as fast as possible.” Some information may be a review, but I’ll bet you’ll learn a new name or two.

Types of Biotechnology

Medical Biotechnology uses this science to understand the human body. They search for cures, treatments, or preventatives for diseases. Examples: vaccines, antibiotics, etc.

Agricultural Biotechnology focuses on developing high-yield crops and earth-friendly pest control. Examples: pest-resistant crops, plant and animal breeding, etc.

Industrial Biotechnology strives to develop materials with biological elements. Examples: Construction, manufacturing wine and beer, washing detergents, etc.

Within each of these broad categories are too many subcategories to mention here. But you’ll learn more in future blog posts.

Why Talk About Biotechnology?

As a former nurse and a science fiction author, I am always interested in how science and technology come together to enhance our lives. I’ve blogged about nanobots and pharmacogenomics. And you can bet I’ll write new posts about biotech in development—what they hope to gain and the implications and ethics involved. Will these biotech items appear in a story someday? Hmmm. If you really want the answer to that, join my newsletter and get updates about my writing projects. Next week, I’ll share a cool new biotech that has applications for VR games and real life!

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