The GROWTH of Biotechnology

By Ghadar, Fariborz; Spindler, Heather | Industrial Management, March/April 2005 | Go to article overview

The GROWTH of Biotechnology


Ghadar, Fariborz, Spindler, Heather, Industrial Management


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In the span of a decade, biotechnology has evolved from an R&D initiative to a major force in the agriculture and health care industries. Manufacturers should prepare to feel increasingly the effects of biotech applications as well. While society continues to debate the morality of biotechnology, companies that develop safe applications accepted by a wary public will reap enormous profits.

In 1995, biotechnology was predominantly a research and development initiative. Today in the United States, biotech is earning more than $40 billion in annual revenues. Biotechnology can boast that it is responsible for 190 life-saving medicines, foods that are resistant to disease or require less pesticide, and fuel, plastics, paper, and other manufactured goods made with a lighter environmental footprint.

This leading-edge area of technology is not relegated solely to the wealthy nations of Europe and America. India, China, South Africa, and even Cuba are moving into innovative and dynamic realms of biotechnology as well.

Biotechnology is really biotechnologies

Biotechnology in the broadest sense is using biological processes or elements (bio) to solve needs or problems (technology). By applying engineering, technology, and science principles, scientists can improve the health, quality, and utility of plants and animals by altering their constitution. This new body of technology is expected to be the next major driver of global economic growth.

Manipulating biological processes is hardly a newsworthy event. Humans have used living organisms or their products for commercial purposes since recorded history. And major scientific developments in the past 100 years that have greatly contributed to our quality of life also fall under this definition of biotechnology. Examples include a hybrid corn introduced in the 1920s that renders remarkable yields and the isolation of streptomycin as an effective antibiotic for tuberculosis.

However, biotechnology as an industry is suddenly receiving so much attention because in the past two decades, new technologies have helped scientists literally see, isolate, and use cells and biological molecules, the smallest parts of organisms. In reality, biotechnologies is a collection of several technologies that leverage the cell's manufacturing capabilities and put biological molecules such as DNA and proteins to work.

As a result, new companies have been founded and extensive research efforts and financial resources have been directed toward biotechnology. Commercial applications of biotechnology have heavily contributed to the health care and food and agriculture industries. Biotechs third wave is bringing innovative applications to industrial and environmental uses.

Food and agriculture

The development, commercialization, and adoption of biotechnologies with food and agricultural applications have expanded rapidly over the past 20 years and continue to find new applications in the food and agriculture industries. A 2004 study on the global diffusion of plant biotechnology reported a global commercial value of biotech crops of $44 billion for the 2003-2004 growing season. Five countries - the United States, Argentina, China, Canada, and Brazil - accounted for 98 percent of that value, which concentrates on four biotech-enhanced crops: soybeans, cotton, corn, and canola. In addition to the quick adoption of genetically modified crops, biotechnology is also responsible for hundreds of biopesticides and other agricultural products being used to improve our food supply and to reduce dependence on conventional chemical pesticides. Significant global controversy exists over the safety of biotech applications in these industries. However, food and agricultural biotechnology is yielding higher productivity and solving many farmers' long-standing challenges.

Better crop disease diagnosis. An important but underreported effect of biotechnology is plant disease diagnosis. …

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