• Question: What is biotechnology?

    Asked by piercey360 to Colin, John, Kevin, Shikha, Triona on 13 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Kevin Motherway

      Kevin Motherway answered on 13 Nov 2014:

      Biotechnology is using living organisms to make useful products for us. The example I’m most familiar with is use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to manufacture proteins that we can use for medicines. Before GMOs many pharmaceutical plants had to use vast amounts of solvents chemicals that polluted the air and if they were spilled caused big groundwater pollution problems. A few years ago I was involved in writing the licence for a new GMO pharmaceutical plant in Cork. The factory was no longer a huge plant with big storage tanks with dangerous chemicals but just 3 small tanks to keep GMO bacteria in just the right conditions to produce a protein used to make medicine for MS, AIDs and Arthritis. If the tank ruptured or the temperature changed even slightly the GMO bacteria were designed to die quickly so they posed no risk of getting out into the environment. The pharmaceutical factory was now literally the the bacteria in the tank. The biggest risk to the environment that pharmaceutical plant posed was just a big diesel tank used to fuel the boilers, just a scaled up version of a typical home heating oil tank, but this one was huge safety features and alarms. GMO has resulted in a huge reduction that the manufacture of medicines has on the environment.

      There are even GMO bacteria that can be used to clean up oil spills and clean the environment up!

    • Photo: Shikha Sharma

      Shikha Sharma answered on 14 Nov 2014:

      Hi piercey360,
      What is biotechnology?
      It can be defined as the branch of science where living organisms and their products are used for the production of food, drink, medicine or for other benefits to the human race, or other animal species.
      Broadly, you can divide biotechnology into four sub fields – red (deals with genetically altered micro-organisms), white (applied to industrial processes), green (deals with agricultural applications) and multi-coloured biotechnology (interdisciplinary and so many applications). You know many people have this misconception that biotechnology is relatively a new field but believe me it’s a very old field. It is been ages now when humans started manipulating living things to so solve problems and improve their way of life. For example in 6000 B.C., people produced beer, wine and bread using fermentation.