What is Biotechnology?

According to the OECD (2002, updated 2016), biotechnology can be defined simply as

the application of science and technology to living organisms, as well as their parts, products and models, in order to alter living or non-living materials for the production of knowledge, goods and services.”

This simplified definition covers all modern biotechnology, but also many traditional or borderline activities. Thus, the OECD proposes a more complex list-based definition of biotechnology, identifying the main lines of development:

  • DNA / RNA: Genomics, pharmacogenomics, gene probes, genetic engineering, DNA / RNA sequencing / synthesis / amplification, gene expression profiling and use of antisense technology, large-scale DNA synthesis, genome and gene editing, gene generation.
  • Proteins and other molecules: Sequencing / synthesis / engineering of proteins and peptides (including large molecule hormones); drug bioavailability; proteomics, protein isolation and purification, signaling, cellular receptor identification.
  • Cell and tissue culture and engineering: cell / tissue culture, tissue engineering (including tissue structures and biomedical engineering), cell fusion, vaccines / immunological stimulants, embryo manipulation, marker assisted reproduction technologies, metabolic engineering.
  • Process biotechnology techniques: bioreactor fermentation, bioprocessing, biolixiviation, biopulping, biobranching, biodesulfurization, bioreactors, bioremediation, biosensors, biofiltration and phytoremediation, molecular aquaculture.
  • Gene and RNA vectors: gene therapy, viral vectors.
  • Bioinformatics: Building omics databases, omics sequencing, modeling complex biological processes, including systems biology.
  • Nanobiotechnology: development of nano / microfabrication tools and processes for application in biosystems (drug delivery, in vitro diagnostics, etc.)

Biotechnology thus consists of a set of enabling technologies that can be applied to a variety of industries. Because it is heavily dependent on knowledge and technology, biotechnology plays a relevant role in promoting innovation, productivity and economic growth in traditional sectors, in addition to contributing to the improvement of the quality of life of the population and environmental protection at various levels.

Depending on the application areas, biotechnology can be divided into four major areas: