What is biotechnology?

The word biotechnology is a cross between the Greek words 'bios' (everything to do with life) and 'technikos' (involving human knowledge and skills). The OECD (the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) defines biotechnology as "the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents". More simply, it is using living organisms to make useful products.

Production may be carried out by using intact organisms, such as yeasts and bacteria, or by using natural substances (e.g. enzymes) from organisms. Biotechnology makes use of biological systems and processes to manufacture useful products and provide services.

What is....

Healthcare or red biotechnology refers to a medicinal or diagnostic product or a vaccine that consists of, or has been produced in, living organisms and may be manufactured via recombinant technology (recombinant DNA is a form of DNA that does not exist naturally. It is created by combining DNA sequences that would not normally occur together). Read more

Agricultural or green biotechnology encompasses a range of modern plant breeding techniques. For centuries, farmers have tried to improve their crops by means of crossing, relying on the random rearrangement of existing genes between two closely related parent plants. Modern agricultural biotechnology improves crops in more targeted ways. The best known technique is genetic modification, but the term agricultural biotechnology (or green biotechnology) also covers such techniques as Marker Assisted Breeding, which increases the effectiveness of conventional breeding. Whatever the particular technology used, the crops may be destined for use for food, biomaterials or energy production. Read more

Industrial or white biotechnology uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make biobased products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy (such as biofuels or biogas). In doing so, it uses renewable raw materials and is one of the most promising, innovative approaches towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Read more