What is 'Biotechnology'

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to make products or run processes. Biotechnology is best known for its huge role in the field of medicine, and is also used in other areas such as food and fuel.

BREAKING DOWN 'Biotechnology'

Biotechnology involves understanding how living organisms function at the molecular level, so it combines a number of disciplines including biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, science and technology. Modern biotechnology continues to make very significant contributions to extending the human lifespan and improving the quality of life through numerous ways, including providing products and therapies to combat diseases, generating higher crop yields, and using biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hungarian engineer Karl Ereky reportedly coined the term “biotechnology,” which is often referred to as “biotech,” in 1919.

History of biotechnology

Biotechnology in its basic form has existed for thousands of years, dating back to an era when humans first learned to produce bread, beer and wine using the natural process of fermentation. For centuries, the principles of biotechnology were restricted to agriculture, such as harvesting better crops and improving yields by using the best seeds, and breeding livestock.

The field of biotechnology began to develop rapidly from the 19th century, with the discovery of microorganisms, Gregor Mendel’s study of genetics, and ground-breaking work on fermentation and microbial processes by giants in the field such as Pasteur and Lister. Early 20th century biotechnology led to the major discovery by Alexander Fleming of penicillin, which went into large-scale production in the 1940s.

Biotechnology took off from the 1950s, spurred by a better understanding in the post-war period of cell function and molecular biology. Every decade since then produced major breakthroughs in biotechnology. These include the discovery of the 3D structure of DNA in the '50s; insulin synthesis and the development of vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in the '60s; massive strides in DNA research in the '70s; the development of the first biotech-derived drugs and vaccines to treat diseases such as cancer and hepatitis B in the '80s; the identification of numerous genes and the introduction of new treatments in decades for managing multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis in the '90s; and the completion of the human genome sequence in the '90s, which made it possible for scientists worldwide to research new treatments for diseases with genetic origins like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

The biotechnology sector has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1990s. The industry has spawned giant companies in the medical space such as Gilead Sciences, Amgen, Biogen Idec and Celgene. At the other extreme are thousands of small, dynamic biotech companies, many of which are engaged in various aspects of the medical industry such as drug development, genomics, or proteomics, while others are involved in areas like bioremediation, biofuels and food products.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Molecular Biology

    Molecular biology is the study of biological activity among the ...
  2. Intellectual Property Rights (Biotechnology)

    Intellectual Property Rights (Biotechnology) give companies a ...
  3. Genetic Engineering

    Genetic engineering is using scientific means for the artificial ...
  4. Genetically Modified Food (GMF)

    Genetically Modified Food is produced from organisms that have ...
  5. Emerging Industry

    An emerging industry is a group of companies in a line of business ...
  6. Orphan Drug Credit

    The orphan drug credit helps pharmaceutical companies absorb ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Biotech ETF Investors are Still on the Sidelines

    Biotech ETFs are surging, but investors aren't taking the bait. Not yet, at least.
  2. Investing

    A Quick Guide To Healthcare ETFs

    The healthcare industry offers a broad variety of sector ETFs but it’s difficult to avoid exposure to pharmaceuticals and biotechnology .
  3. Investing

    UBIO: ProShares UltraPro Nasdaq Biotech ETF

    Obtain information about an ETF offerings that provides leveraged exposure to the biotechnology industry, the ProShares UltraPro Nasdaq Biotech Fund.
  4. Investing

    Key Financial Ratios to Analyze Biotech Companies

    Explore the rapidly growing biotechnology industry, and learn some of the key financial ratios investors use to analyze companies in the industry.
  5. Trading

    Biotech Breakouts Suggest It Is Time to Buy

    Bullish chart patterns on key biotech names are presenting traders with the best risk/reward setup of 2017.
  6. Investing

    Risks and Rewards of Biotech Companies

    We look at the risks and rewards of investing in biotech companies.
  7. Investing

    A Biotech Sector Primer

    Investing in biotechs can involve both huge losses and major gains. Learn about the industry that focuses on novel drug development and clinical research.
  8. Investing

    Active Traders Turn Bullish on Biotech

    The recent price activity of two key ETFs suggests that the biotech sector is poised for a comeback.
  9. Insights

    The Biggest Biotech Companies

    These biotech firms want to revolutionize medicine. If successful, they may see high profits, but investing in these companies carries significant risk.
  10. Trading

    These Charts Suggest Now Is the Time to Buy Biotech (SRPT)

    The pullback toward key support levels is suggesting that 2017 could be the year that biotech investors have been hoping for.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Biotech vs Pharmaceutical company

    Though biotech and pharmaceutical companies share similar business features, there also have differences. Here, we'll distinguish ... Read Answer >>
  2. How does economics study human action and behavior?

    Find out why economics can be considered a deductive social science, like sociology, and how human action and behavior informs ... Read Answer >>
  3. Who Are Pfizer's (PFE) Main Competitors?

    Learn about Pfizer's place in the pharmaceutical industry, and find out which major drug manufacturers are among its main ... Read Answer >>
  4. What is human capital and how is it used?

    Learn about the concept of human capital, how it is developed and why it is important for businesses to protect their human ... Read Answer >>
  5. How does research and development differ from product development?

    Research and development is the conception phase of a product, while product development is the process of designing, creating, ... Read Answer >>
  6. How does government regulation impact the drugs sector?

    Government regulation lengthens the process for bringing new pharmaceuticals to market and restricts the drugs sector to ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center