Ancient and Modern Biotechnology
Ancient cultures discovered that the combination of certain types of foodstuffs could result in entirely new products, and that taking seeds from the best plants in one years’ crop and planting those next season would over several years result in an entire field of healthier, higher-yield plants. However, they had no understanding of the scientific principles by which these techniques worked. It is only in the last one or two centuries that science has unraveled the mysteries behind fermentation, crop selection, and other ancient biotechnology applications.
Perhaps the most significant difference between then and now is that today, researchers can not only manipulate entire living organisms—they can also change and manipulate genetic material extracted from those organisms. A gene or cell can be removed from one species and inserted into another, to confer on it new properties such as pest resistance or the ability to produce a molecule it was previously unable to produce.
Not all modern biotechnology involved the manipulation of genetic material, however. Biotechnology has led to the development of hundreds of pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, diagnostic tests, and medical treatments which are used to prevent and treat human and animal diseases. Biotechnology applications in agriculture have led to the selective breeding of pest-resistance, high-yield crops, and in the field of bioremediation, are used to help clean up oil spills and modify or clean soils and water.
In ancient times, people used biotechnology in fairly simple ways, to enhance their own lives. Today, the biotechnology industry in the United States alone comprises more than 1,400 biotechnology companies which collectively generate tens of billions of dollars a year in revenue.