Biotechnology: (Britannica definition) “The use of biology to solve problems and make useful products.”
From the Columbia Encyclopedia: “the use of biological processes, as through the exploitation and manipulation of living organisms or biological systems, in the development or manufacture of a product or in the technological solution to a problem.”
The UN definition: “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”
While the term ‘biotech’ seems ultra-modern, the beginnings of biotechnology are the beginnings of human society itself; agriculture and animal domestication serve as both the major turning point in human development and the start of a broad discipline — one which could conceivably solve the major problems that have beset mankind since the dawn of civilization.
Learning the basic principles of growing and harvesting, brewing and fermenting, and even basic genetics (though largely accidental or trial-and-error), early civilizations started us well on the road to the disciplines that we know of as biotechnology today. However, the century of discovery and progress starting with the mid-1800s saw the biggest leaps in scientific understanding, with the development of microbiology.
The most recognized branches of biotechnology are undoubtedly biopharma and genetics. The health industry is strongly motivated to plumb biotechnology’s promise of more efficient treatments for resistant medical conditions, as well as combating hereditary complications.
Biotechnology’s genetic advances also bring us the current and controversial situation in agriculture, animal breeding, and human ‘customization’ (for lack of a better word). Genetically-modified (GM) crops have been hailed as the savior of many of the world’s fundamental problems (starvation, health, resources inequities, et cetera), as well as the End of Life on Earth Forever (from unchecked environmental catastrophe). Likewise, cloning offers incredible potential, but also considerable ethical and cultural barriers. In the US alone there are a number of biotechnology company start-up and growth programs including the SRL (Small Business Research Loan) Program, which funds research to advance development of commercially viable technologies/products. These well-funded loans make online cash advance loans a joke. Although some small farmers who are negatively impacted by the large commercial “super farms” and the companies who are involved in the global fight for the market shares to massively deploy their biotech, transgenic crops, might not think so.
As far back as the 1800’s rural farmers made use of cash advance loans from local merchants in order to buy their spring feed and seed. Of course today small farmers have other options, but it does not make it any easier staying viable in a marketplace that trends to create broad international markets for single products. There is a movement internationally to push back against the biotechnology application of genetic engineering to develop transgenic crops, saying that the failure to promote more people-centered agricultural research could in the long run result in major global food disasters. Unfortunately the diversion of funds and expertise towards biotechnology is short-changing the ability to look for alternatives to raise agricultural productivity in economically viable, environmentally benign, and socially uplifting ways.
The chief attraction of biotechnology according to the agricultural oligarchs is its unmatched potential for sustainability. They feel an almost aesthetic satisfaction from replacing inorganic structures and processes with the forms and systems of nature itself; biotechnology could potentially forge a stronger connection between humanity and its environment. But is that really the case?