Application of Biotechnology

Have you ever wondered how test tube babies are born? Or how do we produce milk, wine, and bread with the help of microorganisms? All of these processes require the use of biotechnology, which we will cover in the following article.  

Application of Biotechnology Application of Biotechnology

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    Biotechnology is a technique used in the large-scale production of food products and other processes using living organisms and their metabolic machinery. Applications of biotechnology today have revolutionized the medical, agriculture, and food industries.

    Introduction to Biotechnology

    The European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) has provided the definition of biotechnology as:

    Biotechnology is the integration of natural science and organisms, cells, parts thereof, and molecular analogues for products and services.

    To put it simply, using the genetic material from cells and bacteria, we can change the genotype of an organism by altering its DNA. This is usually done by using a vector and delivering the desirable traits to the subject.

    Biotechnology has been used historically for breeding livestock and crops, even before the scientific reasoning behind these techniques was studied. It was used to make curd, bread, wine, domestication, and breeding of animals to get the desired traits!

    Biotechnology has since, grown rapidly in the last few decades. It is primarily used in medicine, agriculture, the food industry, and environmental practices.

    We will examine several applications of biotechnology throughout the rest of this article.

    Molecular Biotechnology Principles and Applications of Recombinant DNA

    Biotechnology has two principles and using the applications of recombinant DNA technology, we can alter an organism’s genome and give it desirable traits using genetic engineering and bioprocess engineering.

    Genetic engineering consists of altering the DNA makeup of an organism by inserting new genes and, thus, changing the phenotype of the organism.

    Bioprocess Engineering is the maintenance of a sterile environment in chemical processes to enable the growth of biological products such as medicines, vaccines, crops, etc.

    Now that you know the principles of biotechnology, we can look at how we have managed to incorporate these principles by discussing the applications of recombinant DNA.

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Organisms such as plants, animals, bacteria, etc. whose genes have been altered through genetic engineering are called Genetically Modified Organisms. These organisms can be given desirable traits by inserting a foreign gene in their genome to change their phenotype.

    We will cover several examples of genetically modified organisms, including crops and animals used for scientific research.

    Bt Cotton

    Growing cotton has always been difficult as it is always under some threat from pests like bollworms. As a result, we were able to create pest-resistance cotton called Bt cotton!

    Bt cotton is a genetically modified (GM) crop that has some strains of Bacillus thuringiensis inserted into its genome.

    B. thuringiensis produces protein crystals which contain insecticidal proteins. This protein is present as an inactive protoxin which is activated once ingested by the insect by the alkaline pH of the gut. The activated toxin binds to the epithelial cells of the gut and creates pores in them. These pores cause cell lysis and eventually lead to the death of the insect.

    Scientists were able to successfully isolate this toxic gene from B. thuringiensis and then incorporate it into plants like cotton to make them pest resistant. Thus, we can create GM crops which are resistant to extreme conditions and pests.

    Application of Biotechnology Figure 1: Bt cotton with strains of Bacillus thuringiensis growing in a cotton field Genetically Modified Organisms | StudySmarterFig. 1: This diagram shows how insect-resistant Bt cotton is produced.

    Transgenic Animals

    Animals whose genes have been altered by genetic engineering are known as transgenic animals. The insertion of a foreign gene, a transgene into the genome of the animal, is done to give it desirable traits.

    Scientists have successfully created transgenic rats, cows, sheep, fish, and mice for use in scientific research. Currently, over 95% of the subject animals are mice, due to the ability to study behavior, physiology, and disease processes in a mammal that reproduces relatively quickly. These animals are designed to study the regulation of genes and how they affect the functions of the animal’s body, both with and without the disease.

    Many times, biological products like medicines and vaccines are tested on transgenic rats to assess their safety and any side effects that might develop. They are also used for chemical safety testing like makeup and the toxicity of drugs. These practices certainly raise questions about ethical standards.

    This is why there are certain ethical rules to ensure there isn’t any exploitation of animals.

    For example, at research universities, there are panels that approve every protocol and any change in experimental procedures, called IACUC panels. There are biannual (at least) inspections of facilities from neutral third parties. At the national level, grant organizations require adequate reasoning for the use of specific animal subjects, and there are limits on subject numbers while keeping experiments adequately powered for statistical analysis.

    Applications of Biotechnology in Healthcare

    Biotechnology has helped in the development of the healthcare industry using recombinant DNA technological processes. It has helped develop vaccines, cure genetic disorders, create life-saving medicine for patients with diabetes and other drugs which have been discussed below.

    Genetically Engineered Insulin

    Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the islet cells in the pancreas. Its role is to primarily control the amount of sugar in our bloodstream.

    As our blood sugar level increases, the pancreas releases insulin to bring down these levels to a normal amount. People with diabetes require insulin at regular time intervals to regulate their blood sugar levels since their body doesn't produce enough insulin.

    There are two types of diabetic patients.

    • People with type 1 diabetes can't produce insulin whereas,

    • people with type 2 diabetes don't produce enough insulin.

    As a result, they require artificially produced hormones to regulate their sugar levels.

    In the early to mid-20th century, insulin was extracted from the pancreas of cattle and pigs. This, however, caused allergies and other symptoms to develop in some patients. Additionally, animal-extracted insulin takes several hours to take effect.

    The development of genetically engineered insulin revolutionized the supply as this insulin was more easily procured, took less time to take effect, and didn’t cause any side effects in the patients.

    When insulin is synthesized, it is produced as a pro-hormone with a polypeptide chain, chain C along with chains A and B. Mature insulin doesn’t have chain C and has only chains A and B.

    In 1983, an American company called Eli Lilly was able to produce mature insulin with the help of rDNA techniques.

    This made insulin widely available and much more effective than animal insulin.

    Application of Biotechnology Figure 2: Synthesis of mature insulin depiction Applications of Biotechnology in Healthcare | StudySmarterFig 2: Diagram of pro-insulin being converted to mature insulin which is free of C peptide.

    Gene Therapy

    People with genetic diseases can now undergo gene therapy. Gene therapy is a collection of techniques used to correct a defective gene in an individual, usually at a young age but potentially in adults as well. Genetic disorders are treated by the insertion of a correct gene as a substitute for the defective gene. Vectors such as adenovirus are used to carry out this process.

    If gene therapy is introduced to the child at a young age, there is a high chance of a permanent cure as the correct gene replaces the defective gene.

    This has been used to cure patients with ADA (adenosine deaminase) deficiency.

    ADA deficiency is a genetic condition that damages the immune system and is also a common cause of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). People with SCID are unable to fight pathogens and have very low immunity. ADA deficiency is an autosomal recessive disorder that is caused by a defect in the ADA gene. ADA gene has instructions for the enzyme Adenosine deaminase which produces white blood cells (lymphocytes). Symptoms of ADA start showing in patients before they are 6 months old. These include skin rashes, pneumonia, slowed growth and sometimes delayed development.

    Molecular Diagnosis

    You may have noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic, those showing symptoms had to undergo a rapid PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. This is yet another application of biotechnology used to diagnose diseases that can’t typically be diagnosed by urine or serum analysis.

    Along with PCR, other diagnosis methods include ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) and Recombinant DNA technology. These techniques are based on the antigen-antibody interaction principle. Pathogens can be detected by the antigen’s presence such as proteins, glycoproteins, etc.

    Application of Biotechnology in Waste Management

    Biotechnology can be harnessed to help improve environmental factors such as waste management. Throughout this article, we have touched on some of these technologies. Genetic engineering plays an important role in the efficiency of producing less waste.

    Genetically modified crops can help to reduce unnecessary food waste by helping farmers minimise crop loss while also conserving resources. It allows farmers to have higher yields while using less land, helping to conserve biodiversity. Additionally, growing some genetically modified crops has actually helped to reduce carbon dioxide emissions produced by agriculture since less heavy machinery is required.

    Some crops which have been modified to reduce the need for fertilisers, and fish farms which use plant-based sources of food (usually from genetically modified crops) have less waste run-off which tends to lead to eutrophication (a process which reduces biodiversity due to the increase in aquatic plant and algae growth).

    Applications in the Food Industry

    With the help of biotechnology, we can now produce food that has a higher shelf life, an enhanced taste, and a high nutritive value. With the right techniques and resources, biotechnology can even be used to eradicate world hunger and other diseases caused by malnutrition.

    Below are a few applications of these techniques.


    Breweries use anaerobic yeast to produce alcohol. Traditionally, yeasts are known to ferment at 20-28 degrees Celsius. Genetically modified yeasts are known to produce alcohol at much lower temperatures, which are cost-effective. Bread is also produced similarly with the help of GM yeast. These cultures have been genetically refined to produce high-quality food products.

    Longer Shelf Life

    Have you ever noticed that the bananas or tomatoes you bought from the grocery store turn pulpy after letting them sit outside for a few days? This is called the ripening of fruits, and it can be especially annoying if your fruits and vegetables ripen too quickly and go bad after a few days. To tackle this problem, scientists have started producing genetically modified crops that naturally have a longer shelf life. This, in turn, has reduced the wasting of food and resources, saving money.

    A company in California called Calgene managed to create a tomato called Flavr Savr which has a higher shelf life and can be used to support shipping. Similarly, scientists in Israel were able to make genetically modified Bananas that not only have a long shelf life but also high nutritive values.

    Food security and trying to solve the problems associated with food production have been at the forefront of many scientists working in the agricultural industry by developing both new ways to grow food and new types of foods using techniques from biotechnology. This is carried out in 2 main ways: genetic modification (or engineering) and selective breeding.

    Genetically Modified Crops

    Food crops can be genetically modified or engineered. This is when an identified gene in a different species is removed using enzymes and placed into the DNA of another organism. When this occurs the resulting organism is known as transgenic.

    Transgenic organism - Organism that contains genetic material from another unrelated organism and has been introduced by artificial means.

    Crops that have undergone genetic modification include such alterations to make them:

    • More nutritionally valuable, such as golden rice - which contains a gene from another plant and a bacterium to make the rice grains produce beta-carotene, a chemical which turns into vitamin A in the human body. This variety of rice can help those suffering from disease-related deficiencies.

    • Resistant to insects, such as in wheat and maize - these contain a gene from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis which naturally produces a toxin that kills pests such as caterpillars.

    • Resistant to some herbicides (a chemical which destroys plants) - some plants contain this gene naturally. But, for those that don’t, this gene can be inserted so that when farmers spray their whole fields with herbicide, only the weeds are killed and not the crop plants.

    • Drought-resistant so they grow better in drier, warmer conditions to increase crop yield.

    Genetic Engineering techniques play a massive role in biotechnology applications that shape our lives every day. Read more about them by checking the article on Genetic Engineering!

    Selective breeding

    This type of breeding with regard to agriculture has been going on for thousands of years. Selective breeding is when an organism with desirable traits is bred with an organism of the same species, generally containing desirable traits too. It is used in food crops, livestock rearing and fish farming too.

    When compared with genetic modification, selective breeding doesn’t come with some of the ethical concerns laid out with the latter biotechnology technique. For some, genetic modification veers too far from natural processes.

    Selective Breeding

    Genetic Modification


    The artificial selection of breeding partners with desired characteristics to produce offspring with those characteristics

    The artificial manipulation of an organism's genome to achieve the desired characteristics

    Number of generations needed to achieve change

    Many generations


    Organism involved

    Individuals have to be from the same species

    Foreign DNA is introduced from a non-related species

    Human intervention

    Humans intervene with mating by selecting breeding partners, the genes combine on their own

    Humans intervene by introducing genes to the host organism to create new genetic combinations.

    Selective breeding has been around for a long time! Check out "Selective Breeding" article to learn why.

    Application of Biotechnology in Aquaculture

    Aquaculture, also known as water-based agriculture, includes processes such as fish farming used to achieve sustainable fishing. With the growing demand for farmed fish, biotechnology can help meet those demands.

    Biotechnology plays a massive role in aquaculture, namely ensuring fish:

    • Achieve a substantial growth rate using techniques such as selective breeding

    • Aqua feeds have an increased nutritional value by producing alternative plant-based sources of protein

    • Health is improved by using genetic engineering to select disease-resistant genes and through the administration of vaccines

    It also offers environmental benefits, not only will it help with conserving wild stocks, but it can help to restore and protect the environment.

    Conserving the environment comes as a by-product of using plant-based protein sources which contain far less phosphorus than fish-based protein. Read more about aquaculture by checking our article on Sustainable Fishing and Farming!

    Applications of Biotechnology in the Dairy Industry

    Bacteria that feed on lactose, coupled with biotechnology, can be used to change milk’s texture and convert it into cheese. This method has been incorporated into human culture for ages and only with the help of today’s technology can we mass produce these products which are not only of high quality but also cost-effective.

    Do you ever go to a grocery store and find yourself in an indecisive state because there are so many yogurt options, and you don’t just which one to choose? You’d be surprised to know that this yogurt, with its smooth and thick texture, is produced by bacteria like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

    These bacteria ferment the lactose in milk to lactic acid and produce yogurt. The presence of lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. This also means yogurt can be stored for a few days, if kept under proper storage.

    Application of Biotechnology - Key takeaways

    • Biotechnology is the process of large-scale production of food products, medicines, and other resources using living organisms and their metabolic machinery
    • Medicines, vaccines, and other therapeutic drugs can be created using recombinant DNA technology
    • Genetic diseases can be cured using gene therapy by correcting a defective gene
    • Molecular diagnosis methods like PCR, ELISA, and recombinant DNA technology are used to diagnose diseases like HIV-AIDS, COVID-19, etc
    • Organisms with altered genes are called Genetically Modified Organisms


    1. Biotechnology and Its Applications, 2022
    2. Suzanne Wakim and Mandeep Grewal, Biotechnology, Biology LibreTexts, 2022
    3. Scientists Develop GM Bananas with Longer Shelf-life, Crop Biotech Update. (n.d.)
    4. Haroon F, Ghazanfar M, Applications of Food Biotechnology, Jour. of Ecosys & Eco, 2016
    Frequently Asked Questions about Application of Biotechnology

    What are some applications of biotechnology?

    Applications in medicine, gene therapy, insulin, molecular diagnosis, agriculture sector, dairy industry, recombinant DNA technology

    What are some examples of the medical applications of biotechnology?

    Examples of medical applications include gene therapy, genetically engineered insulin, molecular diagnosis, edible vaccines, etc. 

    What is the role of biotechnology in biology?

    To mass-produce food products, medicines, vaccines, improve crop production, cure genetic disorders, etc.

    Which is not an application of biotechnology?

    Cheese making is not an application of modern biotechnology

    What are the applications of biotechnology

    Applications of biotechnology include molecular diagnosis, crop production, vaccines, gene therapy, genetically modified organisms, PCR, etc. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The first GMO was produced in ____.

    CRISPR stands for _________________.

    What GMO food has been created to address vitamin A deficiencies in some developing countries?

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