It may be right to say that biotechnology is not new to any of you. We are all aware that for a very long time, people have used yeast to make bread, beer and alcohol. We cannot eat cassava unless it is first fermented and processed and local gin makers know how well to allow palm wine to ferment prior to brewing.
All these, as simple as they seem, are based on the principles of biotechnology – the use of living organisms in production and product processing.
However, because several methods and techniques of biotechnology have progressively become more complex and more sophisticated than the traditional methods we are used to in our homes, many people have forgotten that biotechnology still involves the same simple methods we use on daily basis.
At the end of this article, you will probably become fully aware of what biotechnology is and how it applies to the environment and environmental health.
Concept of Biotechnology
The term “biotechnology” is derived from two established disciplines – biology and Technology. Biology, as we know, is the study of living organisms while technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes such as making, modification, usage and knowledge of tools, machines and techniques to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem or perform a specific function.
Thus, biotechnology is the use of living organisms (biology) in whole (e.g. bacteria, fungus) or in part (genetic materials e.g. chromosome, gene), or biological substances (e.g. enzymes) to perform specific bioprocess tasks (technology).
The tasks may involve industrial processes (such as manufacturing), bioconversion of wastes (e.g. biofuel production, i.e. conversion of organic waste to gas for use as fuel) or genetic engineering to alter existing forms and function of a living organism in whole or in part.
This also conforms to the definition of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity that biotechnology as ‘any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof to make or modify products or processes for specific use’.
In line with this, the International Society for Environmental Biotechnology defined environmental biotechnology as “the development, use and regulation of biological systems for remediation of contaminated environments (land, air and water) and for environmental-friendly processes (green manufacturing technologies and sustainable development).”
This simply means that environmental biotechnology is the optimal use of nature in a cyclic manner that sustains the environment for future generations.
In order to understand the concept of biotechnology, it is necessary to know what is meant by ‘concept’. The word “concept” is a philosophical term. In its simplest form, it describes the ‘general idea’ or connotes the common characteristics that remain among a set of issues, objects or functions after the uncommon characteristics have been removed.
This can be explained by considering the concept of being an animal. Look around your environment and see a number of objects and individuals positioned at different distances. You can see desks, other human beings, probably goats, fowls, birds and trees.
After eliminating uncommon characteristics, it could be seen that individuals such as goats, birds and humans have such common characteristics as ability to move around, breathe, etc. Thus, it could be said that the concept of being an animal involves locomotion, breathing, etc. In addition, the concept of ‘green’ is said to be that colour common to all plants.
Deriving from these, the concept of biotechnology connotes the characteristic(s) that is common to all biotechnological processes. These are the ability to use living organisms or other biological substances to produce, modify or create new substances or modify existing ones.
Thus, any such process, no matter where it is found, how long it has been around and how crude, simple or sophisticated it might be is described as biotechnology. When biotechnology is directed at making the environment sustainable, it is environmental biotechnology.
In summary, biotechnology is the application of biological and engineering methods to production processes. These methods are not completely new because they have been used for a very long time.
We have used living organisms of different kinds to solve problems without really calling it biotechnology. For instance, we ferment cassava and bake bread and other products at domestic and semi-industrial levels without really appreciating that we are practicing biotechnology.
In modern biotechnology, however, deliberate efforts are made to select living organisms of choice, alter their form and composition and decide how best to use them to achieve optimal set goals.
Biotechnology, however, may also be used for negative purposes as in the making of biological weapons of mass destruction. In spite of these negative implications, there is no doubt; biotechnology is an important development that will help many sectors of world economy move forward.
If properly applied, biotechnology also has the potential to make the world a better and healthier place to live.
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms or other biological systems and technological methods to make or modify products or processes for a specific purpose.
Environmental biotechnology is the application of biotechnological methods to remediate (improve) contaminated environments (land, air and water) everyone needs biotechnology because it is used at all levels, from households fermentation and processing of food materials e.g. cassava, manage human excreta and other wastewaters to large industries and hospitals wastewater management and disease diagnosis and treatment respectively.
Read Also : Importance of Biotechnology
Biotechnology has a wide range of application in agriculture, medicine, pharmacy and environmental management.
Biotechnology methods offer great potential for cost-effective, quick, sustainable and environmentally friendly remediation of contaminated sites.