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The Biotechnology ( ancient Greek βίος bíos , German , Life ' ; as a synonym for biotechnology and briefly as Biotech ) is an interdisciplinary science that deals with the use of enzymes , cells and whole organisms in technical applications concerned. Objectives include the development of new or more efficient processes for the production of chemical compounds and diagnostic methods .

In biotechnology, findings from many areas, such as microbiology , biochemistry ( chemistry ), molecular biology , genetics , bioinformatics and engineering with process engineering ( bioprocess engineering ), are used. It is based on chemical reactions that are catalyzed by free enzymes or enzymes present in cells ( biocatalysis or bioconversion ). Biotechnology makes important contributions to the process of biologization .

Classic biotechnological applications were developed thousands of years ago, such as E.g. the production of wine and beer with yeast and the processing of milk into various foods with the help of certain microorganisms or enzymes. Modern biotechnology has been making increasing use of microbiological knowledge and methods since the 19th century and, since the middle of the 20th century, increasingly also on molecular biological , genetic and genetic engineering knowledge and methods. This makes it possible to use manufacturing processes for chemical compounds, e.g. For example, as active ingredient for pharmaceuticals or as base chemicals for the chemical industry , diagnostic methods , biosensors , new plant varieties to develop and more.

Biotechnical processes can be used in a wide variety of areas. Sometimes attempts are made to sort these processes according to application areas, such as B. Medicine ( red biotechnology ), plants or agriculture ( green biotechnology ) and industry ( white biotechnology ). Sometimes a distinction is also made according to which living beings the methods are applied to, such as in blue biotechnology or yellow biotechnology, which relates to applications in marine life or insects.


There have been biotechnical applications for thousands of years, such as B. the production of beer and wine . The biochemical background was initially largely unclear. With advances in various sciences, especially microbiology in the 19th century, biotechnology was scientifically processed, i.e. biotechnology was developed. Optimized or new biotechnical application possibilities were opened up. Other important steps were the discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA or DNA) in the 1950s, the increasing understanding of its importance and functionality and the subsequent development of molecular biological and genetic engineering laboratory methods.

First biotechnical applications

The earliest applications of biotechnology, which have been known for over 5000 years, the production of bread , wine or beer ( alcoholic fermentation ) using the fungi belonging yeast . By using lactic acid bacteria , sourdough (soured bread) and sour milk products such as cheese , yoghurt , sour milk or kefir could also be produced. One of the earliest biotechnological applications outside of nutrition was tanning and staining of hides using feces and other enzyme-containing materials to make leather . Large parts of biotechnology were based on these production processes until the Middle Ages, and around 1650 the first biotechnological process for the production of vinegar emerged .

Development of microbiology

Louis Pasteur isolated acetic acid bacteria and brewer's yeast for the first time.

Modern biotechnology is essentially based on microbiology , which emerged in the second half of the 19th century. In particular, the development of cultivation methods , pure culture and sterilization by Louis Pasteur laid the foundations for the investigation and application ( applied microbiology ) of microorganisms . In 1867 Pasteur was able to isolate acetic acid bacteria and brewer's yeast using these methods . Around 1890 he and Robert Koch developed the first vaccinations on the basis of isolated pathogens and thus laid the basis for medical biotechnology . The Japanese Jōkichi Takamine was the first to isolate a single enzyme for technical use, alpha-amylase . A few years later, the German chemist Otto Röhm used animal proteases (protein-degrading enzymes) from slaughterhouse waste as detergents and auxiliaries for leather production .

Biotechnology in the 20th Century

The large-scale production of butanol and acetone by fermentation of the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum was described and developed in 1916 by the chemist and later Israeli President Charles Weizmann . It was the first development of white biotechnology . The process was used until the middle of the 20th century, but then replaced by the more economical petrochemical synthesis from the propene fraction of crude oil . The production of citric acid was carried out from 1920 by surface fermentation of the fungus Aspergillus niger . In 1957 the amino acid glutamic acid was produced for the first time with the help of the soil bacterium Corynebacterium glutamicum .

Alexander Fleming on postage stamp

In 1928/29 Alexander Fleming discovered the first medically used antibiotic penicillin in the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum . In 1943 the antibiotic streptomycin followed by Selman Waksman , Albert Schatz and Elizabeth Bugie . In 1949, the production of steroids was implemented on an industrial scale. In the early 1960s, biotechnologically derived proteases were added to detergents for the first time to remove protein stains . In cheese production , the calf rennet has been replaced by rennin produced in microorganisms since 1965 . From 1970 on, amylases and other starch-splitting enzymes could be produced using biotechnology . B. corn starch in the so-called "high-fructose corn syrup", so corn syrup , converted and used as a substitute for cane sugar ( sucrose ), z. B. in beverage production could be used.

Modern biotechnology since the 1970s

Structural model of a section from the DNA double helix (B-shape) with 20 base pairs

Elucidation of the DNA structure

In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson clarified the structure and functionality of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This laid the foundation for the development of modern genetics.

Since the 1970s, there have been a number of central developments in laboratory and analysis technology. In 1972, the biologists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert Boyer succeeded in using molecular biological methods the first in vitro recombination of DNA (change of DNA in the test tube ), as well as the production of plasmid vectors as a tool for the transfer (a vector ) of genetic material , e.g. B. in bacterial cells.

In 1975 César Milstein and Georges Köhler produced monoclonal antibodies for the first time, which are an important tool in medical and biological diagnostics . Since 1977, recombinant proteins ( proteins originally derived from other species ) can be made in bacteria and produced on a larger scale. In 1982 were first transgenic crop plants with genetically acquired herbicide resistance generated so that when plant protection measures the appropriate herbicide spares the crop. In the same year knock-out mice were created for medical research. They have at least one gene inactivated in order to understand and examine its function or the function of the homologous gene in humans.

Genome sequencing

In 1990 that launched the Human Genome Project , which until 2001 (or 2003 in the intended standards) the entire human genome of 3.2 × 10 9 decrypts base pairs (bp) and sequenced was. The sequencing technology is based directly on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) developed in 1975 , which enables a rapid and more than 100,000-fold increase in certain DNA sequences and thus sufficient quantities of this sequence, e.g. B. for analysis made available. As early as 1996, that of the baker's yeast ( Saccharomyces cerevisiae ) with 2 × 10 7 bp was completely elucidated as the first genome . Due to the rapid development of sequencing technology, other genomes, such as that of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (2 × 10 8 bp), could be sequenced relatively quickly.

The determination of genome sequences led to the establishment of further research areas based thereon, such as transcriptomics , proteomics , metabolomics and systems biology and to an increase in importance, e.g. B. bioinformatics .

Applications of genetic engineering

In 1995, the first transgenic product, the Flavr Savr tomato, came onto the market and was approved for sale in the USA and Great Britain. The first attempts at gene therapy in humans were made in 1996, and human stem cells were first propagated in cell culture in 1999 . In the same year, the market volume of recombinantly produced proteins in the pharmaceutical industry exceeded the value of US $ 10 billion for the first time. The cloned sheep Dolly was born in 1998.

The newly developed genetic engineering methods offered biotechnology new opportunities for development, which led to the emergence of molecular biotechnology. It forms the interface between molecular biology and classical biotechnology. Important techniques are e.g. B. the transformation or transduction of bacteria with the help of plasmids or viruses . Certain genes can be specifically introduced into suitable types of bacteria. Further areas of application for molecular biotechnology are analytical methods, for example for the identification and sequencing of DNA or RNA fragments.

Branches of biotechnology

Biotechnology is a very broad term. It is therefore divided into different branches depending on the respective application areas. Some of these overlap, so that this subdivision is not always clear. Some of the terms are not yet established or are defined differently.

Division of biotechnology into different branches
branch application areas
Green biotechnology Use in agriculture ; Plant biotechnology
Red biotechnology Use in medicine and pharmaceuticals ; Medical biotechnology
White biotechnology Use in industry ; Industrial biotechnology
Gray biotechnology Use in waste management
Brown biotechnology Technical or environmental technology z. B. in soil protection
Blue biotechnology biotechnological use of marine resources

The green biotechnology concerns herbal applications such. B. for agricultural purposes. The Red Biotechnology is the area medical-pharmaceutical applications such. B. the manufacture of medicines and diagnostics. The white biotechnology or industrial biotechnology comprises biotechnological production process, especially for chemical compounds in the chemical industry , and also procedures in textile - or food industry .

The division into the areas of blue biotechnology , which deals with the use of organisms from the sea, and gray biotechnology with biotechnological processes in the field of waste management ( sewage treatment plants , soil decontamination and the like) are less common .

Regardless of this classification, there is biotechnology known as the conventional form, which deals with wastewater treatment , composting and other similar applications.

Production methods


The bacterium Escherichia coli is one of the most frequently used organisms in biotechnology.

In modern biotechnology, both bacteria and higher organisms such as fungi , plants or animal cells are now used. Frequently used organisms have often already been carefully researched, such as the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli or the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae . Well-researched organisms are often used for biotechnological applications because they are well known and methods for their cultivation or genetic manipulation have already been developed. Simple organisms can also be genetically modified with less effort .

Increasingly, higher organisms ( multicellular eukaryotes ) are also used in biotechnology. The reason for this is, for example, the ability to make post-translational changes to proteins that z. B. not take place in bacteria. An example of this is the glycoprotein - hormone erythropoietin , under the abbreviation EPO as doping agents known. However, eukaryotic cells grow more slowly than bacteria and are more difficult to cultivate for other reasons. In some cases, pharmaceutical plants that are cultivated in the field, in the greenhouse or in the photobioreactor can be an alternative to the production of these biopharmaceuticals .


Microorganisms in particular can be cultivated in bioreactors or fermenters . These are containers in which the conditions are controlled and optimized so that the cultivated microorganisms produce the desired substances. In bioreactors, various parameters such as B. pH , temperature , oxygen supply , nitrogen supply , glucose content or stirrer settings can be regulated. Since the microorganisms that can be used have very different requirements, very different types of fermenters are available, such as B. stirred tank reactors , loop reactors , airlift reactors , as well as light-transmitting photobioreactors for cultivating photosynthetic organisms (such as algae and plants).


See corresponding paragraphs in the articles: White Biotechnology , Red Biotechnology , Green Biotechnology , Gray Biotechnology and Blue Biotechnology

Due to the diversity of biotechnology, numerous areas of application and products are linked to or dependent on it:


Many applications of biotechnology are based on a good understanding of how organisms work. Through new methods and approaches, such as B. genome sequencing and related research areas such as proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, bioinformatics, etc., this understanding is constantly being expanded. More and more medical applications are possible. In white biotechnology , certain chemical compounds, e.g. B. for pharmaceutical purposes or as a raw material for the chemical industry, and plants can be optimized for certain environmental conditions or their intended use. Frequently, previous applications can also be replaced by more advantageous biotechnological processes, such as B. environmentally harmful chemical manufacturing processes in industry. It is therefore expected that the growth of the biotechnology industry will continue in the future.

See also


  • Moselio Schaechter, John Ingraham, Frederick C. Neidhardt: Microbe: The original with translation aids . Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 2006, ISBN 3-8274-1798-8 .
  • Reinhard Renneberg, Darja Süßbier: Biotechnology for beginners . Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 2005, ISBN 3-8274-1538-1 .
  • R. Ulber, K. Soyez: 5000 years of biotechnology: From wine to penicillin. In: Chemistry in Our Time . Volume 38, 2004, pp. 172-180, doi: 10.1002 / ciuz.200400295 .
  • G. Festel, J. Knöll, H. Götz, H. Zinke: The influence of biotechnology on production processes in the chemical industry. In: Chemical Engineer Technology . Volume 76, 2004, pp. 307-312, doi: 10.1002 / cite.200406155 .
  • K. Nixdorff, D. Schilling, M. Hotz: How advances in biotechnology can be misused: Bioweapons. In: Biology in Our Time . Volume 32, 2002, pp. 58-63.
  • Björn Lippold: The rainbow of biotechnology . .
  • Nikolaus Knoepffler , Dagmar Schipanski , Stefan Lorenz Sorgner (eds.): Human biotechnology as a social challenge. Alber Verlag, Freiburg i. B. 2005, ISBN 3-495-48143-5 .
  • Volkart Wildermuth : Biotechnology. Between scientific progress and ethical boundaries. Parthas Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-86601-922-X .
  • Luitgard Marschall: Industrial Biotechnology in the 20th Century. Technological alternative or niche technology? In: Technikgeschichte, Vol. 66 (1999), H. 4, pp. 277-293.

Web links

Wiktionary: Biotechnology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d What is biotechnology? Information page of the BMBF. ( , accessed on February 22, 2010).
  2. a b c d biotechnology. Funding priority of the BMBF: Sustainable organic production. Information page of the project partner Forschungszentrum Jülich. ( ( Memento from September 20, 2005 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on February 22, 2010).
  3. Yellow Biotechnology. Retrieved March 3, 2017 (English).
  4. ^ Charles Weizmann: Production of Acetone and Alcohol by Bacteriological Processes. U.S. Patent 1,315,585, September 1919.
  5. Technical University of Munich (TUM): Molecular Biotechnology , description of the course, accessed on February 21, 2010.
  6. P. Kafarski: Rainbow Code of Biotechnology . CHEMICAL. Wroclaw University, 2012.
  7. ^ Eva L. Decker, Ralf Reski : Moss bioreactors producing improved biopharmaceuticals. In: Current Opinion in Biotechnology. Volume 18, 2007, pp. 393-398. doi: 10.1016 / j.copbio.2007.07.012 .
  8. Biotechnology company survey 2009 ( Memento from March 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ), information page of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), accessed on February 22, 2010.