Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
In its broadest definition, biotechnology is any technique, which uses living organisms to make products, to improve plants or animals, or to develop microbes for specific uses. This definition includes the traditional methods of plant breeding, animal husbandry and fermentation, which can trace their roots back thousands of years. It also covers the methods of modern biotechnology such as the industrial use of recombinant DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), cell fusion and novel bioprocessing techniques.
An important part of modern biotechnology is the understanding, transferring and modification of genes, the units that allow all characteristics to be inherited, whether this is the maximum yield of a crop, the colour of a fruit or the enzymes produced by a strain of yeast.
The information that genes contain can be transferred between different species of animals, plants or bacteria to confer specific benefits. For example, the gene for a bacterial protein that kills insect pests has successfully been introduced into a range of crops, reducing the need for chemical insecticides. In addition to transferring genes between species, it is also possible to "switch off" undesirable traits. For example, this technique has been used to switch off the gene for softening in the tomato, giving a product with improved keeping qualities.