history behind biotechnology

A common misconception is the thought that biotechnology is relatively new because it only
involves working with DNA and genetic engineering. Biotechnology is not new--humans have
been manipulating living things to solve problems and improve their way of life for millennia.
The origins of biotechnology date back nearly 10,000 years ago to early agrarian societies in
which people collected seeds of plants with the most desirable traits for planting the next year.
There is evidence that Babylonians, Egyptians and Romans used these same selective breeding
practices for improving livestock.
As far back as 6000 B.C., people produced beer, wine and bread using fermentation, a natural
process in which the biological activity of one-celled organisms plays a critical role.
By 4000 B.C., the Chinese were using lactic-acid-producing bacteria for making yogurt, molds
for making cheese and acetic acid bacteria for making wine vinegar.
By 1500 A.D., plant-collecting expeditions became quite common across the globe. The
collections led to the establishment of the first plant gene banks. Plants with desirable traits,
including resistance to disease, were stored for future breeding purposes.
Nikolai I. Vavilov was a Russian plant geneticist and agronomist who initiated a comprehensive
research and breeding program that included a logical plan for crop genetic resource
The end of the 19th century was a milestone in biology. Microorganisms were discovered, as
well as pasteurization. Gregor Mendel began the study of genetics using seeds and plant
The term "biotechnology" was coined in 1919 by Karl Ereky, a Hungarian engineer. At that
time, the term meant all lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with
the aid of living organisms.
Biotechnology brought industry and agriculture together at the beginning of the 20th century.
Fermentation processes were developed that produced acetone from starch and paint solvents to
be used on automobiles.
Between 1930 and 1952, researchers focused their effort on the relationship of genes and
proteins. They found a direct relationship between mutations of a gene and the sequence of
amino acids in a protein.
The discovery of penicillin during World War II led to the focus of pharmaceuticals. The "Cold
War" years were dominated by work with microorganisms in preparation for possible biological
warfare and the production of more antibiotics.
The final threshold to modern molecular biology was crossed in 1953 with the discovery of the
structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. Experiments by many other scientists
soon followed to determine how the information in the gene is decoded and expressed.
The accumulated knowledge of cell structure, biochemistry, and heredity opened the door to
modern molecular biology and biotechnology. In 1985, a plan for mapping and sequencing the
human genome was planned. This is the Human Genome Initiative and its goal was to discover
all of the human genes by the year 2003.