In short, biotechnology is technology based on biology. Biotechnology analyzes and makes use of (properties of) animals, plants and micro-organisms to produce medicines, food or new substances. This can range from making cheese to growing bacteria that produce vaccines. Scientists also make extensive use of biotechnological techniques in their basic research to understand life.
- Basic research: the study of organisms on the molecular level (genes, proteins and molecules). For example, a better understanding of plant molecular mechanisms controlling plant yield, growth and interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment can contribute to the development of more sustainable agricultural practices that are required to feed the growing world population with a lower impact on the environment.
- Agricultural biotech: the development of new technologies and innovative applications suitable for food production, biomaterials and medicines. Because there are currently worldwide agricultural problems, the optimization of crop yield and quality with a minimal impact on the environment is of the utmost importance. The aim is to develop crops that are more tolerant to the rapidly changing and more severe environments facing water shortage or extreme temperatures. Sustainably grown plants can also be used as a renewable and environmentally friendly resource for biofuels, biomaterials and biopharmaceuticals, and plants with a novel composition that is better for industrial processing are a highly valuable asset for tomorrow’s bio-based society.
- Medical biotech: the development of new tools and technologies based on what we find in nature to help combat human disease. A classic example is the use of yeast to produce insulin for diabetes patients. A more cutting edge example is the isolation and engineering of cancer patients’ own immune cells to arm them to battle the cancer, before reintroducing them into the patients themselves (adoptive cell transfer). As such, hormones, vaccines and antibiotics can be produced, regenerative therapies and new diagnostic tools for diseases can be developed and even artificial organs can be created.
- Industrial biotech: the application of bio-catalysis, using alternative substrates and energy sources such as living cells – yeast, molds, bacteria, plants – and enzymes in industrial processes. As such less energy is required, less waste is created and more easily degradable products are synthesized, ultimately moving toward cleaner industrial production. For example, the development of bacterial strains that produce biodegradable plastics more efficiently, the production of ethanol from food industry wastes, the production of vitamin B2 using a fungus (Ashbya gossypii) as biocatalyst, etc.