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6.8 Biotechnology

7 min readjanuary 15, 2023

Samantha Himegarner

Samantha Himegarner

Riya Patel

Riya Patel


AP Biology 🧬

358 resources
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Introduction

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms, cells, or biological systems to create new products, processes, or technologies. It encompasses a wide range of applications, including medicine, agriculture, environmental management, and industrial production. Some examples of biotechnology include genetic engineering, fermentation, and the production of biopharmaceuticals. Biotechnology also includes techniques like recombinant DNA technology, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and gene cloning which are used to manipulate and study genetic material. Biotechnology has the potential to bring many benefits to society, such as new medical treatments, more efficient and sustainable agriculture, and new industrial processes, but it also raises important ethical, legal, and social issues that need to be carefully considered.
Biotechnology has a wide range of applications and is used in a variety of fields, including:
  1. Medicine: Biotechnology is used to develop new drugs and therapies, as well as diagnostic tools and vaccines. Biotechnology is also used to create genetically engineered animals and plants to produce proteins or other molecules for medical use.
  2. Agriculture: Biotechnology is used to improve crop yields and resistance to pests and disease. Genetically modified crops have been developed with increased resistance to herbicides and insects, and with improved nutritional content.
  3. Environmental management: Biotechnology is used to clean up contaminated soil and water, and to create new methods for waste treatment. Biotechnology also has potential to create new systems for resource recovery and conservation.
  4. Industrial production: Biotechnology is used to produce useful products such as biofuels, bioplastics, and enzymes for industrial use. Biotechnology also has the potential to create new industrial processes that are more efficient and sustainable.
  5. Research: Biotechnology is used to study the genetics and biology of living organisms and to understand the underlying mechanisms of disease. Biotechnology also plays a critical role in genetic engineering and synthetic biology research.
  6. Forensics: Biotechnology is used in forensic science to identify individuals based on DNA analysis and to solve crimes.
  7. Food production: Biotechnology is used to improve the nutritional content of food, extend the shelf life, and increase resistance to pests and diseases.
  8. Others: Biotechnology has many other applications such as in aquaculture, wildlife conservation, and in the production of cosmetics, and many more.

Technology

Recombinant DNA

Recombinant DNA (rDNA) is DNA that has been artificially created by combining genetic material from different sources. This is typically done by cutting and splicing DNA molecules from different organisms using enzymes, and then inserting the resulting pieces into host cells. This process allows scientists to combine the genetic information from multiple organisms in order to create new organisms with desired traits or to study the function of specific genes. Recombinant DNA technology is a key tool in biotechnology and is used in a variety of applications such as genetic engineering, medicine, and agriculture.

Gene Cloning

Gene cloning is a process by which a single gene or a group of genes are isolated, copied, and then inserted into a host organism or vector. The most common method for gene cloning is called recombinant DNA technology, which involves cutting a DNA molecule at a specific location using restriction enzymes and then joining it to a vector, such as a plasmid. This vector can then be introduced into a host organism, such as bacteria, where it will replicate and produce multiple copies of the original gene.
Once the gene of interest is cloned, it can be used for a variety of applications, such as producing large quantities of a protein for medical use, creating genetically modified crops, or studying the function of a specific gene. Gene cloning also allows scientists to create multiple copies of a gene, which can be used for genetic research and manipulation.

Polymerase Chain Reaction

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a laboratory technique used to amplify or make many copies of a specific DNA sequence. PCR is a powerful tool that allows scientists to obtain a large amount of a specific DNA fragment from a small amount of starting material.
The PCR process involves three basic steps: denaturation, annealing, and extension. In the denaturation step, the double-stranded DNA is heated to a high temperature to separate the two strands. In the annealing step, the temperature is lowered and short pieces of synthetic DNA called primers, which are complementary to the ends of the target DNA sequence, are added. These primers serve as a starting point for the synthesis of new DNA strands by a thermostable DNA polymerase enzyme. In the extension step, the temperature is raised again to allow the polymerase enzyme to add nucleotides to the ends of the primers, creating new copies of the target DNA sequence. These steps are repeated multiple times (usually 20-40 cycles) to produce millions or even billions of copies of the original DNA sequence.
PCR is widely used in molecular biology and genetics, as well as in forensic science, medical testing, and the diagnosis of genetic diseases. It also plays a crucial role in genetic engineering and biotechnology.

Gel Electrophoresis

Gel electrophoresis is a laboratory technique used to separate and analyze DNA, RNA, and proteins based on their size and charge. The process involves placing a mixture of biomolecules in a gel matrix, typically made of agarose or polyacrylamide, and then applying an electric field to the gel. The gel acts as a sieve, allowing smaller molecules to move through it more quickly than larger molecules.
The most common type of gel electrophoresis used for DNA and RNA is called agarose gel electrophoresis, which is used to separate and analyze DNA fragments based on their size. A sample of DNA is mixed with a loading buffer and then placed in a well in the gel. An electric current is applied, and the DNA fragments migrate through the gel towards the positive electrode. The smaller fragments move faster than the larger fragments, and as a result, they will move farther in the same amount of time. This creates a separation of the DNA fragments based on their size, and the different size bands can be visualized after staining the gel with ethidium bromide.
Protein gel electrophoresis, also known as SDS-PAGE, is a technique used to separate and analyze proteins based on their size and charge. In this technique, proteins are denatured and then separated by size on a polyacrylamide gel.
Gel electrophoresis is a powerful tool for identifying and characterizing DNA, RNA, and proteins, and it is widely used in molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics. It also plays a critical role in the diagnosis of genetic disorders, forensic science, and in the identification of microorganisms.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have had their genetic material altered in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination. This is typically done using recombinant DNA technology. GMOs have the potential to bring many benefits, such as increased crop yields, improved disease resistance, and reduced use of pesticides. However, there are also concerns about the safety of GMOs for human consumption and their potential impact on the environment.

Human Safety Concerns

In terms of human safety, there is ongoing debate over the potential health risks of consuming GMOs. Some studies have suggested that GMOs may cause allergic reactions, while others have found no evidence of harm. The World Health Organization (WHO), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have stated that currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat and are no different from traditionally bred foods.

Environmental Concerns

Environmental concerns include the potential for GMOs to crossbreed with wild relatives and create "superweeds" that are resistant to herbicides, and the potential for GMOs to harm beneficial insects and other non-target organisms.

What are the Pros and Cons of GMOs?

The Pros of GMOs are:
  • Increased crop yields
  • Increased resistance to pests and disease
  • Reduced use of pesticides
  • Improved nutritional content of food
  • Increased tolerance to environmental stress
The Cons of GMOs are:
  • Potential health risks for humans
  • Potential harm to beneficial insects and other non-target organisms
  • Lack of long-term research
  • Potential for crossbreeding with wild relatives and creating "superweeds"
  • Economic and ethical concerns about the control of the food supply by a few large companies

Modern-day Issues Regarding Biotechnology

Biotechnology is a rapidly advancing field with many potential benefits, but it also raises a number of ethical, legal, and social issues.

Ethical

Ethical issues in biotechnology include concerns about genetic engineering, human cloning, and the use of stem cells. Genetic engineering raises questions about the manipulation of life and the creation of "designer babies," while human cloning raises concerns about the creation of identical human beings and the potential for misuse. The use of stem cells raises questions about the destruction of human embryos and the potential for creating a "market" for human tissue.

Legal

Legal issues in biotechnology include intellectual property rights, regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and patenting of genetic material. Intellectual property rights are a contentious issue in biotechnology, with questions about who owns the rights to genetic material, and how to ensure that the benefits of biotechnology are shared fairly. The regulation of GMOs is also a complex issue, with questions about how to ensure the safety and efficacy of genetically modified organisms while also protecting the rights of farmers and consumers.

Social

Social issues in biotechnology include access to healthcare, bioprospecting and bio-piracy, and the potential for biotechnology to exacerbate social inequalities. Biotechnology has the potential to revolutionize healthcare, but access to these technologies is often limited by cost and geography, which can exacerbate existing social inequalities. Bioprospecting, the search for useful biological resources in nature, and bio-piracy, the unauthorized access and use of such resources, raises ethical and legal issues about the rights of indigenous people and the fair distribution of benefits from these resources.
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