It is increasingly common to hear the word biotechnology. Little by little, this term has been introduced into our everyday vocabulary, but without a clear meaning.
However, the term biotechnology refers to something very specific, whose definition, meaning and scope we must know since biotechnology is a reality that has a role in all areas of our lives and has a promising future.
The concept of biotechnology
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 (Article 2), biotechnology can be defined as `all technical applications that use biological systems and live organisms or their derivatives for the creation or modification of products and processes for specific uses’.
The colours of biotechnology
Biotechnology has broad and interesting fields of investigation that follow the colours of the rainbow:
Green biotechnology encompasses all of the processes in the agricultural sector. Transgenic plants and genetically modified organisms (GMO), antioxidants, horticulture (cultivation techniques), yeast, genetically modified bacteria (employed in the fermentation of wine and beer), bioreactors (systems that maintain a healthy biological environment) or insecticides, are some of the many well-known fields which are also known as plant biotechnology.
Blue biotechnology is biotechnology related to the seas and oceans, with the exploration and exploitation of marine organisms. Additives and colorants in food, nutraceuticals for the treatment of arthritis, or the improvement of memory, dietary supplements, cosmetics and anti-ageing creams are some of its applications.
White biotechnology is linked to the industrial sector. The processes catalysed by enzymes to improve the speed of the output of products defines white biotechnology. A well-known example is the Haber Bosch process, to obtain ammonia; or biopulping, the treatment of xylanase enzymes to prevent the formation of derived toxins in lignin in the production of paper.
Red biotechnology or health biotechnology occurs most in bio-sanitary processes. Its aim is to cure illnesses through the modification of defective genes, for example, through inserting genes that replace damaged ones. This branch includes the discovery of new drugs and vaccines (thanks to the implementation of nanotechnology in medicine and pharmacogenomics), regenerative medicine (with cellular and tissue engineering), gene therapy, and new and modern forms of analysis and diagnostics.
Grey biotechnology is centred on ecosystems and environmental sciences. It focuses on decontaminating soil and polluting gases, the purification and cleaning of residual water, maintaining air cleanliness, recycling live products as well as inert ones, and eliminating heavy metals, hydrocarbons and things that damage the biosphere. Its aim is the sustainability between people and ecosystems thanks to new biotechnology resources with energetic and microbiological origins drawn from the use of living organisms such as fungi, algae and plants.
Brown biotechnology is very closely related to grey biotechnology. It concentrates on the treatment of arid and desert-like soils drawing from species that are highly resistant to dry and saline soils.
Gold biotechnology is responsible for everything related to bioinformatics, from software to hardware, used in the data analysis of biological processes. Their uses are infinite: the search for Primers, the sequencing of peptides, the search for alterations in DNA, errors in the transcription of DNA or phylogenetic analysis (evolutionary relationships between different species).
Black biotechnology is linked to bioterrorism and biological wars. It investigates pathogenic, virulent and resistant microorganisms, to convert them into biological weapons or counteract their harmful effects (the bacteria Bacillus anthracis or Coxiella burnetii, for example, can cause lethal illnesses to the lungs, such as to the level of anthrax).
Violet biotechnology centres upon the study of the legal aspects that surround this science: methods of security (biosecurity) such as the protection of a patient’s data, patents (legal regulation), bioethical problems and legislation. Recent investigations and innovative forms of possible progress question moral and ethical principles: assisted reproduction, gene therapy from germline manipulation, animal testing or cloning.
Yellow biotechnology is an emerging field of the food industry. Culinary oils are formed by fatty acids, their study of which hopes to reduce their saturation. Those commonly known as bad fatty acids or saturated fatty acids largely come from animals, and good or unsaturated fatty acids, like Omega 3, are present in bluefish. Yellow biotechnology also studies hydrogenation processes that also affect the heart and cause cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, it studies the development of genetically modified food with an increased calorie content and vitamin supplements which are used in developing countries to combat child malnutrition in an efficient and fast way.
Orange biotechnology is the area of learning in biotechnology. Its teaching emerges with strength in universities across the world. The knowledge that it provides and its interdisciplinary integration convert it into a technology destined to offer goods and services and to satisfy our needs in a future that we can now call present.
This article is not considered legal advice