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A brief introduction to —
Biotechnology

Bio means "Life"
Techno means "Tools"
ology means "the Study of"

Cartoon: Daddy, what's a clone?


Definition of Biotechnology: It is a body of methods and techniques that employ as tools the living cells of organisms or parts or products of those cells (such as, genes and enzymes). Biotechnology is a growing field that includes several types of scientists, such as Nutritionists are specialists in the study of food science and are often called dieticians. , Chemists are scientists trained in the science of chemistry - the science of matter; the branch of the natural sciences dealing with the composition of substances and their properties and reactions. , 
Agronomists (called agrologists in Canada) are scientists who specialize in agronomy, which is the science of utilizing plants for food, fuel, feed, and fiber. , Geneticists are scientists who studies genetics, the science of heredity and variation of organisms. and Entomologists are specialists in insect biology. who work with Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all living organisms. It is often compared to a set of blueprints or a recipe, or a code..

History: A common misconception is that biotechnology is relatively new because it involves working with DNA and genetic engineering. Biotechnology is not new...humans have been manipulating living things to solve problems and improve their way of life for millennia!

The final threshold to modern molecular biology was crossed in 1953 with the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. The accumulated knowledge of cell structure, biochemistry, and heredity opened the door to modern molecular biology and biotechnology. In 1985, a plan was designed to map and sequence the human genome with completion in 2003.

Genetic Engineering is a type of biotechnology which is probably the most talked about in the news. While genetic engineering requires special molecular tools to move Genes are units of heredity; segments of DNA or RNA that are transmitted from one generation to the next, and that carry genetic information... such as the sequence of amino acids for a protein. from one location to the next, biotechnology just means that genes have to change location, usually with the help of a living organism such as a 
Bacterium are a large group of single celled organisms with a very simple cell structure that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Some manufacture their own food, some live as parasites on other organisms, and some live on decaying matter..

All living things have DNA that contains the secrets of how it is put together. It determines our characteristics and everything else about us.

Today...and Tomorrow: These days you can't open a newspaper or turn on a television without hearing about DNA and the strong impact it is having on society. As we approach the 21st century, it is apparent how biotechnology will have an influence on everyone's life. No matter who you are, everyone will need to have a basic understanding of biotechnology in order to make intelligent and moral choices regarding daily decisions.

We are entering an era where:
  • DNA fingerprinting is becoming commonplace in our courtrooms and child custody issues
  • We routinely genetically engineer bacteria to produce pharmaceuticals
  • The DNA of various agricultural crops is being altered so that the fruits and vegetables produced will be of a higher yield, last longer and be resistant to insects
  • Humans will soon be treated for genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, using engineered viruses
  • We have the technology to clone any animal desired, including humans 
Clones are identical copies of the original. In biology this involves a group of (genetically) identical cells or organisms that come from a single cell or individual by some kind of asexual reproduction.
  • Biological molecules are being integrated with microprocessors to create innovative computer systems
  • Novel genetic approaches to combat and detect epidemic infections from viruses and bacteria are constantly being investigated and tested.
  • The Hollywood science-fiction suspense movie, GATTACA, may represent the reality of the future, with the understanding of the Human Genome.

    All of these issues focus on the manipulation of an organisms' DNA. However, DNA technology presents society with a double-edged sword. Along with great benefits of biotechnology towards the advancement of our culture, there will be a multitude of ethical and moral issues.

    For example, the genetic makeup of a person could be used against them by potential employers or insurance companies regarding risks of disease indicated by that person's DNA sequence; or, expectant parents could "choose" the potential traits and characteristics of their future children.

    These factors, both positive and negative, are part of OUR FUTURE. Decisions regarding the outcome and direction of this genetic revolution will be influenced by everyone society. Therefore, we, as teachers, should pass on this pertinent information onto the future generations of students because THEY are OUR FUTURE.

    Learn more about the first genetically modified pet — GloFish® (pictured here).

    Pittsburgh Connection:
  • Pittsburgh-based Agentase LLC's nerve agent sensor was named one of the 10 - greatest army inventions - by the U.S. Army Research, Development & Engineering Command (2003). The invention is based on the research of Alan J. Russell, Ph.D., Professor of Surgery and Professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Russell is also Director of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative is that which serves to regenerate -
that which restores and revives tissue growth and so is
able to give new life or vigor. Medicine.

  • Biology is the next great important area for research (RD McCullough, Dean of CMU's Mellon College of Science)... a biotechnology revolution. CMU's biotech plan taps interdisciplinary strengths in biomedical engineering, computational biology and chemistry, drug discovery tools, medical robotics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience and tissue engineering.


  • Did You Know?: Biotech is predicted to be one of the most important 
Applied is put to practical use; concerned with concrete problems or data rather than with fundamental principles. sciences of the 21st century.

    Some important biotechnology terms include:
    Clone  •  Life Science  •  Genes
    Genetic Engineering  •  DNA  •  Stem Cells

    For more information on biotechnology, be sure to visit:
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