What is biotechnology? Biotechnology-- or "biotech," as it is more commonly called in the high-growth space, has started to become a bit of a buzzword, populating conversations all over the world: from the workplace to biotech news. But what exactly is it? In its simplest form, biotechnology is technology based on biology. But really it’s so much more than that.
The biotechnology industry is dedicated to improving our beautiful planet, and the lives of the people living on it. This is accomplished by harnessing the living systems and organisms found in nature.
Biotechnology has a wide variety of applications. It is used to create medicine in the form of drugs and vaccines to fight diseases, to grow crops in areas of low soil fertility to feed the world, and to create renewable energy sources to minimize pollution and decrease our environmental footprint.
The incredible thing about this field of research is that humans have been harnessing the power of nature for centuries – long before tech startups began developing biotech apps. An early example of biotechnology in action is agriculture. Throughout history, farmers have inadvertently modified the genetics of their crops through crossbreeding to create plants that can withstand different environmental conditions, and produce fruits and vegetables with varying flavors and textures.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years and this same technology is being used today, albeit in a more direct manner. Apples are a great illustration of this. In order to produce an apple that comprises the qualities that are most desired by consumers, such as taste, crispness and shelf life, different species of apple trees are crossbred with each other. The goal of this is to try and produce a fruit that comprises the best qualities of both the ‘parent’ plants. So if you had one type of apple that was floury but had a long shelf life, and another that was really crispy but would only last a couple days before going bad, then cross-breeding these two fruit trees would hopefully produce an apple that was both crispy and had a long shelf life.
Another example of early-stage biotech is the use of fermentation, a biological process that occurs in yeast, to create alcohol and bread; something I’m sure many of us were thankful for this winter!
With the invention of modern technology, biotech has expanded to include new areas of science, such as the development of diagnostic tests, medical devices and pharmaceutical therapies. These allow for the creation of new medicines to prevent, detect and fight disease.
The biotech landscape:
The biotechnology industry is growing. There is a lot of activity in this space from research institutions, universities, and biotech companies - startups, scale-ups, and established. If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest biotech news there are a variety of sources you can use:
- Nature Biotechnology: The most widely cited biotechnology journal, covering material across biology, biomedicine, agriculture and environmental sciences.
- Twitter: Follow a broad scope of channels, from scientists, to lawyers, journalists, investors, entrepreneurs, companies and CEO’s, in order to get a complete overview of the sector. @BiotechNews and @IAmBiotech are good places to start.
- Blogs: There are many biotech blogs available online. Check out Matthew Herper’s blog for Forbes, covering news in science and medicine.
- Meetup groups: This is a great way to meet like-minded people who are interested in biotech, or working in the industry.
- Your local news