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2.9. Biotechnology

Biotechnology

The biotechnology is the use of techniques for modifying living beings simple (bacteria and yeasts) and eukaryotic cells in culture, whose metabolism and biosynthesis capacity is used for the production of useful substances for man.

The biotechnology integrates the knowledge and techniques of biochemistry, microbiology, chemical engineering and genetic engineering to make the properties of microorganisms and cell cultures.

The biotechnology has been used for many years in various fields, but differences can be two stages in the development of biotechnology:

Traditional biotechnology

The traditional biotechnology is the one that has been used throughout the history of mankind when living beings have been used to obtain products of interest to humans or improve their production.

The individuals used have been selected through artificial selection techniques, with which man has been selecting individuals with the desired characteristics, facilitating their reproduction and preventing them from reproducing.

Some of the applications of traditional biology are:

  • In agriculture and livestock, the best individuals have been selected with the intention of improving the species and production.
  • In the food industry, using microorganisms to obtain food:
    • Bread: from the fermentation of the flour with the use of yeasts.
    • Yogurt: from bacteria that ferment milk.
    • Cheese: from animal enzymes and microorganisms to curdle and ferment milk.
    • Sausages: from microorganisms that ferment the meat.
    • Wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages obtained by fermentation.
  • In the pharmaceutical industry, using microorganisms to obtain vaccines, serums, antibiotics such as penicillin, etc.

Modern biotechnology

The modern biotechnology uses advanced techniques for manipulating DNA to obtain individuals to improve production. It uses genetic engineering to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for different purposes:

  • In the agricultural and livestock industry, creating GMOs that:
    • Resist pests and droughts.
    • Resist low temperatures.
    • Resist variations in salinity.
    • Get a higher production.
    • Produce substances, such as vitamins or proteins, that are not possessed by the unmodified organisms.
    • Resist herbicides.
    • Produce fruits with delayed ripening.
    • Obtaining transgenic food. Cheaper food due to its greater production and with interesting characteristics for human consumption, although there are experts and organizations that oppose its commercialization because they are unaware of the possible effects of these species on the environment and on human health.
  • In the pharmaceutical industry, creating GMOs that are capable of creating molecules or substances that they would not generate in a natural way. Thus, antibiotics, hormones, vaccines, and proteins can be obtained that do not cause the rejection effect in the person who receives them.
  • In medicine, through:
    • Genetic analysis, detecting genetic diseases before they develop (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, etc.) and being able to prevent and act on them in the beginning.
    • Gene therapy, introducing certain genes into the patient to fight certain diseases. They can replace altered genes, inhibit the action of defective genes, or insert new genes.
    • Comparison of the DNA of two people for the identification of victims, evidence of paternity or authorship of a crime.
  • In the environment, through bioremedication, microorganisms, fungi, plants or the enzymes derived from them are used to return a contaminated environment to its natural condition. GMOs are used to:
    • Recover soils contaminated with heavy metals.
    • Obtain energy from wastewater in treatment plants.
    • Degrade toxic waste, such as oil slicks, where bacteria capable of degrading petroleum hydrocarbons and transforming them into substances that are less harmful to the environment can be used.
    • Obtain biodegradable plastics from genetically modified bacteria.

Although sometimes used synonymously, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living beings whose DNA has been artificially modified, while transgenic organisms are referred to as individuals that contain genes from individuals from other species, so they are not synonymous. Foods that contain products from these organisms in their composition are called transgenic foods.

Interactive Activity: Traditional or Modern Biotechnology?

Interactive activity: Order the sentence about transgenic products.