Biotechnology, or “biotech,” combines biology and technology to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Biotech is a rather large area of biology that uses organisms to develop new products.
While there are related fields like bio-engineering or biomanufacturing, the overlap is minimal enough that each is its own discipline.
While the term was coined in 1919, biotechnology has been around for thousands of years in different forms. In agriculture, especially, people have used biotech to make their crops and livestock more efficient and healthy. In the modern era, technology has taken quite a different turn, but the song remains the same.
We still use technology to make our food production as bountiful as possible. Here are a few examples of how we’ve succeeded.
1. Crops Can Tolerate Herbicides and Pesticides
Pesticides and herbicides are poisonous to crops. The intent behind using them is to get rid of unwanted plants taking nutrients from the crops you want to grow, or to deal with small bugs and animals that destroy crops. Fortunately, thanks to biotech, we’re able to create crops that are immune to popular herbicides and pesticides.
With sufficient resistance to these poisons, farmers began using herbicides and pesticides more often. The reason for increased use was because weeds were also becoming resistant to herbicides due to the close contact with biotech plants. Studies in 2011 raised concerns about the heavy pesticide use, so biotech went to work on another alternative.
2. Crops Are Immune to Disease
You’ve likely heard of genetically modified organisms, or “GMOs.” Though there has been some talk about avoiding GMOs, genetically modified foods are harmless and have been proven harmless time and again. The point of modifying our crops at a genetic level is to be able to produce more food with the land we currently have. Distributed as they currently are, our resources aren’t enough to feed the world’s population.
There are many purposes for modifying crops, but the main one is to make them immune to diseases that would otherwise kill plants. Crops in fields and stuck in close quarters could have diseases spread through them quickly and ruin food production. With genetic modification, the crops can survive, become more plentiful and feed people without any worry of harm.
3. More Efficient Antibiotics
A very scary thing starting to occur across the world is the increasing number of viruses that are immune to our antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has already killed about 700,000 people across the globe, with the number estimated to reach 10 million in 2050. Even farmers are finding that the antibiotics they grow with aren’t effective against certain strains of viruses and diseases.
Biotechnology has already begun fighting back by creating new antibiotics for people, animals and crops. Of course, the fight is ongoing for now as viruses continue to evolve. However, with entire companies working on this issue, we should have no problem keeping up.
Biotechnology is something that we’ve been able to grow over the last few thousand years. Thanks to advancements in society and technology, especially over the last century or so, we’ve been able to push further than most people have dreamed possible. With this new technology, many are hopeful that we can make food shortages and hunger a thing of the past. Perhaps with enough advancements in research, they’ll be right.