There is little doubt that modern biology is the most diversified of all the
natural sciences, exhibiting a bewildering array of subdisciplines: microbiology,
plant and animal anatomy, biochemistry, immunology, cell biology,
molecular biology, plant and animal physiology, morphogenesis, systematics,
ecology, genetics and many others.
The increasing diversity of modern
biology has been derived primarily from the largely post-war introduction
into biology of other scientific disciplines such as physics, chemistry and
mathematics, which have made possible the description of life processes at
the cellular and molecular level. In the last two decades well over 20 Nobel
prizes have been awarded for discoveries in these fields of study.
This newly acquired biological knowledge has already made vastly
important contributions to the health and welfare of mankind. Yet few
people fully recognise that the life sciences affect over 30% of global economic
turnover by way of healthcare, food and energy, agriculture and
forestry, and that this economic impact will grow as biotechnology provides
new ways of influencing raw material processing.
Biotechnology will increasingly affect the efficiency of all fields involving the life sciences, and it is now realistically accepted that by the early twenty-first century it will
be contributing many trillions of pounds to world markets.
In the following chapters, biotechnology will be shown to cover a multitude
of different applications ranging from the very simple and traditional,
such as the production of beers, wines and cheeses, to highly complex
molecular processes, such as the use of recombinant DNA technologies to
yield new drugs or to introduce new traits into commercial crops and animals.
The association of old traditional industries such as brewing with
modern genetic engineering is gaining in momentum, and it is not for
nothing that industrial giants such as Guinness, Carlsberg and Bass are
heavily involved in biotechnology research. Biotechnology is developing at
a phenomenal pace, and will increasingly be seen as a necessary part of the
advance of modern life and not simply a way to make money!
While biotechnology has been defined in many forms (Table 1.1), in
essence it implies the use of microbial, animal or plant cells or enzymes to
synthesise, break down or transform materials.
The European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) considers biotechnology
as ‘the integration of natural sciences and organisms, cells, parts
thereof, and molecular analogues for products and services’.