What are Examples of Biotechnology?

Syringe, close up - Stuart Minzey/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty ImagesStuart Minzey/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

1. Vaccines

Oral vaccines have been in the works for many years as a possible solution to the spread of disease in underdeveloped countries, where costs are prohibitive to widespread vaccination. Genetically engineered crops, usually fruits or vegetables, designed to carry antigenic proteins from infectious pathogens, that will trigger an immune response when injested. An example of this is a patient-specific vaccine for treating cancer. An anti-lymphoma vaccine has been made using tobacco plants carrying RNA from cloned malignant B-cells. The resulting protein is then used to vaccinate the patient and boost their immune system against the cancer. Tailor-made vaccines for cancer treatment have shown considerable promise in preliminary studies.

2. Antibiotics

Plants are used to produce antibiotics for both human and animal use. Expressing antibiotic proteins in livestock feed, fed directly to animals, is less costly than traditional antibiotic production, but this practice raises many bioethics issues, because the result is widespread, possibly unneccessary use of antibiotics which may promote growth of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Several advantages to using plants to produce antibiotics for humans are reduced costs due to the larger amount of product that can be produced from plants versus a fermentation unit, ease of purification, and reduced risk of contamination compared to that of using mammalian cells and culture media.

3. Flowers

There is more to agricultural biotechnology than just fighting disease or improving food quality. There are some purely aesthetic applications and an example of this is the use of gene identification and transfer techniques to improve the color, smell, size and other features of flowers. Likewise, biotech has been used to make improvements to other common ornamental plants, in particular, shrubs and trees. Some of these changes are similar to those made to crops, such as enhancing cold resistance of a breed of tropical plant, so it can be grown in northern gardens.

4. Biofuels

The agricultural industry plays a large role in the biofuels industry, providing the feedstocks for fermentation and refining of bio-oil, bio-diesel and bio-ethanol. Genetic engineering and enzyme optimization techniques are being used to develop better quality feedstocks for more efficient conversion and higher BTU outputs of the resulting fuel products. High-yielding, energy-dense crops can minimize relative costs associated with harvesting and transportation (per unit of energy derived), resulting in higher value fuel products.

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