Four Branches of Biotechnology Applications
There are four main areas in which biotechnology is used: medicine, agriculture, biological engineering, and bioremediation.
In medicine, biotechnology applications encompass drug development, genetic testing, gene therapy, and pharmacogenomics. The latter is a relatively new field of study which deals with how genetic factors influence the way individuals respond to drugs. It is hoped that this type of study will help scientists optimize drugs, and perhaps even one day create entirely individualized treatment programs based on individual genetics.
In agriculture, biotechnology expands on the way ancient cultures began developing and selecting for higher-yield crop species. However, modern biotechnology takes this field much further than ever before, using molecular genetic techniques to transfer genes between various different plants to enhance characteristics such as yield and disease resistance.
Biological engineering is a subdiscipline within the field of engineering which focuses on a highly physical side of biotechnology. Applications include biomedical engineering, which applies engineering techniques and technology to the development of medical equipment and other items such as artificial body parts, including implants, prosthetic limbs and even artificial organs.
Finally, there is bioremediation and biodegradation, two similar aspects of biotechnology which focus on developing technologies using microorganisms to clean up environmental contamination. Biological processes and microorganisms both play a significant role in the removal or conversion of many types of contaminants, and bioremediation seeks to take advantage of this fact to devise ways of removing them from the environment. One particular application attempts to genetically engineer microorganisms to enhance their ability to degrade hydrocarbons. This application would have significant benefit in cleaning up marine oil spills and in removing petroleum seepage, millions of tons of which enter the marine environment annually.