How Biotechnology Is Changing the World | Microorganisms | Biotech | ENDEVR Documentary

How Biotechnology Is Changing the World | Microorganisms | Biotech | Business Documentary from 2019 Developing new medicines, breeding better plant varieties, making cleaning supplies more efficient – biotechnology uses natural cellular and biomolecular processes to develop new technologies or improve existing products. In this film, we look at some of the most promising products being developed now and explore some of the potential dangers. The biotech industry can be divided into three main sections: medicine and pharmaceuticals, industry and agriculture and plant biotechnology. Examples include single-use cutlery made out of maize, plants with inbuilt resistance to pests and heart valves and cartilage that can be cultivated artificially. The possibilities seem endless, because modern biotechnology goes a decisive step further than previous methods. But as this film reveals, the targeted use of microorganisms is extremely complex and there are fears this technology can be misused.

Biotechnology is “the integration of natural sciences and engineering sciences in order to achieve the application of organisms, cells, parts thereof and molecular analogues for products and services”. The term biotechnology was first used by Károly Ereky in 1919, meaning the production of products from raw materials with the aid of living organisms.


The concept of biotechnology encompasses a wide range of procedures for modifying living organisms according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of the plants, and “improvements” to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection  and  hybridization

 Modern usage also includes  genetic engineering  as well as  cell and  tissue culture  technologies. The  American Chemical Society  defines biotechnology as the application of biological organisms, systems, or processes by various industries to learning about the science of life and the improvement of the value of materials and organisms such as pharmaceuticals, crops, and livestock.  As per the  European Federation of Biotechnology, biotechnology is the integration of natural science and organisms, cells, parts thereof, and molecular analogues for products and services.  Biotechnology is based on the  basic biological sciences  (e.g., molecular biologybiochemistrycell biologyembryologygeneticsmicrobiology)  and conversely provides methods to support and perform basic research in biology.

Biotechnology is the  research and development  in the  laboratory using  bioinformatics for exploration, extraction, exploitation, and production from any living organisms and any source of biomass by means of  biochemical engineering where high value-added products could be planned (reproduced by biosynthesis, for example), forecasted, formulated, developed, manufactured, and marketed for the purpose of sustainable operations (for the return from bottomless initial investment on R & D) and gaining durable patents rights (for exclusives rights for sales, and prior to this to receive national and international approval from the results on animal experiment and human experiment, especially on the  pharmaceutical branch of biotechnology to prevent any undetected side-effects or safety concerns by using the products). The utilization of biological processes,  organisms or systems to produce products that are anticipated to improve human lives is termed biotechnology. 

By contrast,  bioengineering  is generally thought of as a related field that more heavily emphasizes higher systems approaches (not necessarily the altering or using of biological materials directly) for interfacing with and utilizing living things. Bioengineering is the application of the principles of  engineering and natural sciences to tissues, cells, and molecules. This can be considered as the use of knowledge from working with and manipulating biology to achieve a result that can improve functions in plants and animals.  Relatedly, biomedical engineering is an overlapping field that often draws upon and applies  biotechnology (by various definitions), especially in certain sub-fields of biomedical or  chemical engineering  such as  tissue engineeringbiopharmaceutical engineering,  and  genetic engineering.


Brewing  was an early application of biotechnology.

Although not normally what first comes to mind, many forms of human-derived  agriculture  clearly fit the broad definition of “‘utilizing a biotechnological system to make products”. Indeed, the cultivation of plants may be viewed as the earliest biotechnological enterprise.

Agriculture  has been theorized to have become the dominant way of producing food since the  Neolithic Revolution. Through early biotechnology, the earliest farmers selected and bred the best-suited crops, having the highest yields, to produce enough food to support a growing population. As crops and fields became increasingly large and difficult to maintain, it was discovered that specific organisms and their by-products could effectively fertilizerestore nitrogen,  and  control pests. Throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have inadvertently altered the genetics of their crops through introducing them to new environments and  breeding  them with other plants — one of the first forms of biotechnology. 

These processes also were included in early  fermentation  of  beer.  These processes  were introduced in early  MesopotamiaEgyptChina  and  India,  and still use the same basic biological methods. In  brewing, malted grains (containing  enzymes) convert starch from grains into sugar and then adding specific  yeasts  to produce beer. In this process,  carbohydrates  in the grains broke down into alcohols, such as ethanol. Later, other cultures produced the process of  lactic acid fermentation, which produced other preserved foods, such as  soy sauce. Fermentation was also used in this time period to produce  leavened bread. Although the process of fermentation was not fully understood until  Louis Pasteur‘s work in 1857, it is still the first use of biotechnology to convert a food source into another form.

Before the time of  Charles Darwin‘s work and life, animal and plant scientists had already used selective breeding. Darwin added to that body of work with his scientific observations about the ability of science to change species. These accounts contributed to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. 

For thousands of years, humans have used selective breeding to improve the production of crops and livestock to use them for food. In selective breeding, organisms with desirable characteristics are mated to produce offspring with the same characteristics. For example, this technique was used with corn to produce the largest and sweetest crops. 

In the early twentieth century scientists gained a greater understanding of  microbiology  and explored ways of manufacturing specific products. In 1917, Chaim Weizmann first used a pure microbiological culture in an industrial process, that of manufacturing  corn starch  using  Clostridium acetobutylicum, to produce  acetone,  which the  United Kingdom desperately needed to manufacture  explosives  during  World War I. 

Biotechnology has also led to the development of antibiotics. In 1928,  Alexander Fleming discovered the mold Penicillium. His work led to the purification of the antibiotic compound formed by the mold by Howard Florey, Ernst Boris Chain and Norman Heatley – to form what we today know as penicillin. In 1940, penicillin became available for medicinal use to treat bacterial infections in humans. 

The field of modern biotechnology is generally thought of as having been born in 1971 when Paul Berg’s (Stanford) experiments in gene splicing had early success. Herbert W. Boyer (Univ. Calif. at San Francisco) and Stanley N. Cohen (Stanford) significantly advanced the new technology in 1972 by transferring genetic material into a bacterium, such that the imported material would be reproduced. The commercial viability of a biotechnology industry was significantly expanded on June 16, 1980, when the  United States Supreme Court ruled that a  genetically modified  microorganism could be  patented in the case of  Diamond v. Chakrabarty.  Indian-born  Ananda Chakrabarty, working for  General Electric,  had modified a bacterium (of the genus  Pseudomonas)  capable of breaking down crude oil, which he proposed to use in treating oil spills. (Chakrabarty’s work did not involve gene manipulation but rather the transfer of entire organelles between strains of the Pseudomonas bacterium).

The  MOSFET  (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor) was invented by  Mohamed M. Atalla  and  Dawon Kahng  in 1959.  Two years later, Leland C. Clark and Champ Lyons invented the first  biosensor  in 1962.  Biosensor MOSFETs  were later developed, and they have since been widely used to measure  physicalchemicalbiological and  environmental parameters.  The first BioFET was the ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET), invented by  Piet Bergveld in 1970.  It is a special type of MOSFET,  where the  metal gate is replaced by an ion-sensitive  membraneelectrolyte  solution and  reference electrode.  The ISFET is widely used in  biomedical  applications, such as the detection of  DNA hybridizationbiomarker  detection from  bloodantibody  detection,  glucose  measurement,  pH sensing, and  genetic technology. 

By the mid-1980s, other BioFETs had been developed, including the  gas sensor FET (GASFET),  pressure sensor FET (PRESSFET),  chemical field-effect transistor  (ChemFET),  reference ISFET  (REFET), enzyme-modified FET (ENFET) and immunologically modified FET (IMFET).  By the early 2000s, BioFETs such as the  DNA field-effect transistor  (DNAFET),  gene-modified FET (GenFET) and  cell-potential  BioFET (CPFET) had been developed. 

A factor influencing the biotechnology sector’s success is improved intellectual property rights legislation—and enforcement—worldwide, as well as strengthened demand for medical and pharmaceutical products to cope with an ageing, and ailing,  U.S.  population.

Rising demand for biofuels is expected to be good news for the biotechnology sector, with the  Department of Energy  estimating  ethanol  usage could reduce U.S. petroleum-derived fuel consumption by up to 30% by 2030. The biotechnology  sector has allowed the U.S. farming industry to rapidly increase its supply of corn and soybeans—the main inputs into biofuels—by developing genetically modified seeds that resist pests and drought. By increasing farm productivity, biotechnology boosts biofuel production. 


Biotechnology has applications in four major industrial areas, including health care (medical), crop production and agriculture, non-food (industrial) uses of crops and other products (e.g.,  biodegradable plasticsvegetable oilbiofuels), and  environmental  uses.

For example, one application of biotechnology is the directed use of  microorganisms  for the manufacture of organic products (examples include beer  and  milk  products). Another example is using naturally present  bacteria  by the mining industry in  bioleaching.  Biotechnology is also used to recycle, treat waste, clean up sites contaminated by industrial activities  (bioremediation), and also to produce  biological weapons.

A series of derived terms have been coined to identify several branches of biotechnology, for example:

  • Bioinformatics  (also called “gold biotechnology”) 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 genomicsstructural genomics, and proteomics, and forms a key component in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector. 
  • Blue biotechnology is based on the exploitation of sea resources to create products and industrial applications. This branch of biotechnology is the most used for the industries of refining and combustion principally on the production of  bio-oils  with photosynthetic micro-algae. 
  • 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.  It is commonly considered as the next phase of green revolution, which can be seen as a platform to eradicate world hunger by using technologies which enable the production of more fertile and resistant, towards  biotic  and  abiotic stress, plants and ensures application of environmentally friendly fertilizers and the use of biopesticides, it is mainly focused on the development of agriculture.  On the other hand, some of the uses of green biotechnology involve  microorganisms to clean and reduce waste. 
  • Red biotechnology is the use of biotechnology in the medical and  pharmaceutical  industries, and health preservation.  This branch involves the production of  vaccines  and  antibiotics,  regenerative therapies, creation of artificial organs and new diagnostics of diseases.  As well as the development of  hormonesstem cellsantibodies,  siRNA and  diagnostic tests. 
  • 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.  
  • “Yellow biotechnology” refers to the use of biotechnology in food production (food industry), for example in making wine  (winemaking), cheese (cheesemaking), and beer  (brewing)  by fermentation.  It has also been used to refer to biotechnology applied to insects. This includes biotechnology-based approaches for the control of harmful insects, the characterisation and utilisation of active ingredients or genes of insects for research, or application in agriculture and medicine and various other approaches. 
  • Gray biotechnology is dedicated to environmental applications, and focused on the maintenance of  biodiversity  and the remotion of pollutants. 
  • Brown biotechnology is related to the management of arid lands and  deserts. One application is the creation of enhanced seeds that resist extreme  environmental conditions  of arid regions, which is related to the innovation, creation of agriculture techniques and management of resources. 
  • Violet biotechnology is related to law, ethical and philosophical issues around biotechnology .
  • Dark biotechnology is the color associated with  bioterrorism or  biological weapons and biowarfare which uses microorganisms, and toxins to cause diseases and death in humans, livestock and crops. 


In medicine, modern biotechnology has many applications in areas such as  pharmaceutical drug discoveries and production,  pharmacogenomics, and genetic testing (or  genetic screening).

DNA microarray  chip – some can do as many as a million blood tests at once

 Pharmacogenomics  (a combination of  pharmacology  and  genomics) is the technology that analyses how genetic makeup affects an individual’s response to drugs. Researchers in the field investigate the influence of genetic variation on drug responses in patients by correlating  gene expression  or  single-nucleotide polymorphisms  with a drug’s  efficacy or toxicityThe purpose of pharmacogenomics is to develop rational means to optimize drug therapy, with respect to the patients’  genotype, to ensure maximum efficacy with minimal  adverse effects.  Such approaches promise the advent of ” personalized medicine“; in which drugs and drug combinations are optimized for each individual’s unique genetic makeup. 

Computer-generated image of insulin hexamers highlighting the threefold symmetry, the zinc ions holding it together, and the histidine residues involved in zinc binding

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.  Modern biotechnology can be used to manufacture  existing medicines relatively easily and cheaply. The first genetically engineered products were medicines designed to treat human diseases. To cite one example, in 1978  Genentech developed synthetic humanized  insulin by joining its gene with a  plasmid vector inserted into the bacterium  Escherichia coli. Insulin, widely used for the treatment of diabetes, was previously extracted from the pancreas of abattoir animals (cattle or pigs). The genetically engineered bacteria are able to produce large quantities of synthetic human insulin at relatively low cost. Biotechnology has also enabled emerging therapeutics like  gene therapy. The application of biotechnology to basic science (for example through the Human Genome Project) has also dramatically improved our understanding of biology and as our scientific knowledge of normal and disease biology has increased, our ability to develop new medicines to treat previously untreatable diseases has increased as well. 

Genetic testing allows the  genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited  diseases,  and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s  ancestry.  In addition to studying chromosomes  to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes  biochemical  tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in  chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a  genetic disorder. As of 2011 several hundred genetic tests were in use.  Since genetic testing may open up ethical or psychological problems, genetic testing is often accompanied by  genetic counseling.


Genetically modified crops (“GM crops”, or “biotech crops”) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified with  genetic engineering  techniques.  In most cases, the main aim is to introduce a new  trait  that does not occur naturally in the species. Biotechnology firms can contribute to future food security by improving the nutrition and viability of urban agriculture. Furthermore,  the protection of intellectual property rights encourages private sector investment in agrobiotechnology.

Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests,  diseases,  stressful environmental conditions,  resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a  herbicide ), reduction of spoilage,  or improving the nutrient profile of the crop.  Examples in non-food crops include production of  pharmaceutical agents,  biofuels,  and other industrially useful goods,  as well as for  bioremediation. 

Farmers have widely adopted GM technology. Between 1996 and 2011, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops had increased by a factor of 94, from 17,000 square kilometers (4,200,000 acres) to 1,600,000 km2 (395 million acres).  10% of the world’s crop lands were planted with GM crops in 2010.[55] As of 2011, 11 different transgenic crops were grown commercially on 395 million acres (160 million hectares) in 29 countries such as the US,  BrazilArgentinaIndia,  Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Mexico and Spain. 

Genetically modified foods are foods produced from  organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their  DNA  with the methods of  genetic engineering. These techniques have allowed for the introduction of new crop traits as well as a far greater control over a food’s genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as  selective breeding  and  mutation breedingCommercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994, when  Calgene first marketed its  Flavr Savr  delayed ripening tomato.  To date most genetic modification of foods have primarily focused on  cash crops  in high demand by farmers such as  soybeancorncanola,  and  cotton seed oil.  These have been engineered for resistance to pathogens and herbicides and better nutrient profiles. GM livestock have also been experimentally developed; in November 2013 none were available on the market,  but in 2015 the FDA approved the first GM salmon for commercial production and consumption. 

There is a  scientific consensus  that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food,  before introduction.   Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe.  The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation. 

GM crops also provide a number of ecological benefits, if not used in excess  However, opponents have objected to GM crops per se on several grounds, including environmental concerns, whether food produced from GM crops is safe, whether GM crops are needed to address the world’s food needs, and economic concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law.


Industrial biotechnology (known mainly in Europe as white biotechnology) is the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes, including  industrial fermentation.  It includes the practice of using  cells such as  microorganisms, or components of cells like  enzymes,  to generate  industrially  useful products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and biofuelsIn the current decades, significant progress has been done in creating  genetically modified organisms (GMOs)  that enhance the diversity of applications and economical viability of industrial biotechnology. By using renewable raw materials to produce a variety of chemicals and fuels, industrial biotechnology is actively advancing towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a petrochemical-based economy.[ 

Synthetic biology is considered one of the essential cornerstones in industrial biotechnology due to its financial and sustainable contribution to the manufacturing sector. Jointly biotechnology and synthetic biology play a crucial role in generating cost-effective products with  nature-friendly features by using bio-based production instead of fossil-based.  Synthetic biology can be used to engineer  model microorganisms,  such as  Escherichia coli,  by  genome editing  tools to enhance their ability to produce bio-based products, such as  bioproduction   of medicines and  biofuels.  For instance, 

E.coli  and  Saccharomyces cerevisiae  in a consortium could be used as industrial microbes to produce precursors of the  chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel  by applying the  metabolic engineering in a co-culture approach to exploit the benefits from the two microbes.

Another example of synthetic biology applications in industrial biotechnology is the re-engineering of the  metabolic pathways  of E. coli by  CRISPR  and  CRISPRi   systems toward the production of a chemical known as  1,4-butanediol,   which is used in fiber manufacturing. In order to produce 1,4-butanediol, the authors alter the metabolic regulation of the Escherichia coli by CRISPR to induce   point mutation in the gltA gene,  knockout of the sad gene, and  knock-in  six genes (cat1, sucD, 4hbdcat2, bld, and bdh). Whereas CRISPRi system used to knockdown the three competing genes (gabD, ybgC, and tesB) that affect the biosynthesis pathway of 1,4-butanediol. Consequently, the yield of 1,4-butanediol significantly increased from 0.9 to 1.8 g/L. 


Environmental biotechnology includes various disciplines that play an essential role in reducing environmental waste and providing  environmentally safe  processes, s uch as  biofiltration  and  biodegradation.  The environment can be affected by biotechnologies, both positively and adversely. Vallero and others have argued that the difference between beneficial biotechnology (e.g., bioremediation  is to clean up an oil spill or hazard chemical leak) versus the adverse effects stemming from biotechnological enterprises (e.g., flow of genetic material from transgenic organisms into wild strains) can be seen as applications and implications, respectively.  Cleaning up environmental wastes 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.



In 1988, after prompting from the  United States Congress,  the   National Institute of General Medical Sciences   (National Institutes of Health)  (NIGMS) instituted a funding mechanism for biotechnology training. Universities nationwide compete for these funds to establish Biotechnology Training Programs (BTPs). Each successful application is generally funded for five years then must be competitively renewed.  Graduate students  in turn compete for acceptance into a BTP; if accepted, then stipend, tuition and health insurance support are provided for two or three years during the course of their  Ph.D.  thesis work. Nineteen institutions offer NIGMS supported BTPs.  Biotechnology training is also offered at the undergraduate level and in community colleges.

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