Biotechnology Through the Ages


Oct 23, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)


Through the Ages

Revised June 2010

Ancient Biotechnology

Not known when biotechnology began

Few records exist besides prehistoric carvings and

Most early biotechnology focused on finding food and
supporting other basic human needs

Useful plants were brought in from the wild and planted near

Food preservation most likely came from unplanned events, such as
fire or freezing

Domestication of plants and animals played a key part in
the development of early biotechnology practices

Ancient Biotechnology:

Domestication is the adaptation of organisms so they can be cultured

Process of domestication most likely began 11,000 to 12,000 years ago in
the Middle East

Food supplies were often seasonal, and as such were very low in winter

Domesticating plants

such as grains

involved collecting seed and
growing crude crops, and understanding the seed had to properly mature
before it would be good food

Plants needed proper water, light, and nutrients

Raising animals in captivity began about the same time as domesticating
plants, as people found it was easier to have an animal close by than hunt

People learned animals’ needs, how they bred, and how to raise

Cattle and sheep were the first domesticated food animals

Domestication resulted in people being able to gather and store foods,
leading to farming and food preservation methods still used today

Ancient Biotechnology:


Early humans learned hard lessons about food preservation

Some foods rotted, while others could change shape and would still be edible

Food stored in a cool cave or heated by a fire did not spoil as quickly

Immersing foods in sour liquids prevented food decay

Food could be stored in leather bags or clay jars

Fermentation occurred if certain microorganisms were present in the food,
creating an acid condition which slowed or prevented spoiling

Cheese was one of the first products made through biotechnology

strains of
bacteria and rennet (an enzyme found in calves’ stomach lining) were added
to milk

Today, most rennet is genetically engineered, and some cheeses don’t
even use it!

Certain yeasts are fungi used to make bread rise by producing a gas in the

Vinegar was formed from fermented juices and extracts from fruit and grains

Classic Biotechnology

Made widespread use of methods from ancient biotechnology, especially
fermentation, but adapted them to industrial production

Focuses on short
term food production to meet the demands of an
increasing population

Classic fermentation advancements occurred in the 1800 and 1900s

Yeast enzymes chemically changed compounds into alcohol, which can
be converted into acetic acid, or vinegar, which can be used in pickling

The use of fermenters, specially designed chambers, allowed better
control of the process, so new products such as glycerol, acetone, and
citric acid resulted

Yeasts helped lead to the modern baking industry

Fermentation also led to the development of antibiotics, drugs which
could combat bacterial infections

Limitations in the use of antibiotics keep disease
causing organisms
from developing an immunity to the drug

Antibiotics are used in both human and animal medicine

Modern Biotechnology

Often referred to as genetic engineering, modern biotechnology involves
the investigation of genes based on research from the mid


Genetics is the study of heredity, or how traits are passed from
parents to offspring

Differences in heredity are known as variability

Genes are the basic building blocks of genetics

they carry the genetic

Recombinant DNA Technology

Use of biotechnology to produce new life forms by moving genetic
material from one organism into another

Genetically modified bacteria, biodiesel, human insulin, and some new
food varieties came about because of this challenging and
controversial process

You Might have Heard of…

Zacharias Janssen:

Dutch eyeglass maker who discovered the principle of
the microscope in 1590

Anton Van Leeuwenhoek:

Developed the single
lens microscope in the
1670s, which was used to observe tiny organisms

Gregor Mendel:

Austrian botanist and monk who formulated the basic
laws of heredity in the mid
1800s after breeding thousands of peas and
discovering some traits were dominant and others recessive

Johan Friedrich Miescher:

Swiss biologist who isolated the nuclei of white
blood cells in 1869, leading to the identification of nucleic acid

Walter Sutton:

Determined chromosomes carried units of heredity

Wilhelm Johannsen:

Dutch biologist who created the term “gene”

Thomas Hunt Morgan:

Contributed to the knowledge of X and Y
chromosomes and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his research

Ernst Ruska:

German electrical engineer who built the first electron
microscope in 1932

You Might have Heard of…

Alexander Fleming:

Discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic drug
used in treating human disease, in 1928

Rosalind Franklin:

Set up an x
ray diffraction lab which took
photographs of DNA and showed it could have a double helix

James Watson and Francis Crick:

Collaborative researchers who
produced the first model of DNA structure in 1953

Norman Borlaug:

Helped to develop high
producing wheat
varieties and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his work

Mary Clare King:

Determined that 99 percent of human DNA is
identical to that of a chimpanzee

Ian Wilmut:

Cloned Dolly the sheep in 1997

Biotechnology Terms to Note


Use of systematic methods to answer


Require generating new information to gain


Involves use of knowledge already acquired

Field Plot:

Small area of land used to test questions
or hypothesis to simulate results on a larger scale


Creation of new products or methods
based on research findings


A pattern for the production of similar