Biotechnology is the controlled manipulation of biological systems, including living cells or cellular components, for the processing or manufacturing of various products useful to humans. Biologists apply not only biological methods but also physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering in order to learn about organisms and to develop techniques for the manipulation of biological systems. While biotechnology provides an expansive advantage for humans and the environment, there are also a number of potential disadvantages to consider.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Biotechnology is the controlled manipulation of biological systems, including living cells or cellular components, for the processing or manufacturing of various products useful to humans. The advent of biotechnology has benefited fields such as agriculture, animal husbandry, the pharmaceutical industry and medical sciences. In agriculture, it is possible that genetically modified crops might not have long-term viability. Genetically modified plants or microorganisms could spread their genetic information into the ecosystem, causing harm such as reduced biodiversity.
Biotechnology’s positive impact on the world is well-known. The advent of biotechnology has benefited fields such as agriculture, animal husbandry, the pharmaceutical industry and medical sciences. In agricultural biotechnology, genetic engineering has enabled the production of crops that are able to grow in non-ideal soil or in dry conditions. These genetically modified, or transgenic, crops are of higher quality and higher yield, and have increased shelf life. In addition, they have been engineered to be resistant to pests, which allows farms to use less pesticide. Biotechnology has also enabled the mass production of previously unavailable medicines, such as insulin, and facilitated research into molecular biology using genetically modified organisms.
Negative Impact on Agriculture
Biotechnology has indeed done a lot of good for the world, but it also has disadvantages, and there are some concerns about its potential negative impacts. In agriculture, there are concerns that genetically modified crops may transfer genetic material into natural, unmodified plants. For instance, a crop that is herbicide resistant may transfer some of its traits to a weed, which would result in an herbicide resistant weed. Another concern about agricultural biotechnology centers around the uncertainty of genetically modified crops’ long-term biological viability.
Impact on Production and Global Market
Because of the fast growth, pest resistance and hardiness of transgenic crops, the yield of such crops is typically higher than those of conventional crops. Yet some economists are concerned that overproduction due to transgenic crops may result in effects such as market instability, reduced export income, fewer product varieties and even unemployment. Depressed economies may also be unable to take advantage of the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology due to global overproduction. The asymmetrical availability of these crops also raises questions about the potential for discriminatory exploitation.
Impact on Nature, Biodiversity and the Ecosystem
The long-term consequences of the genetic alteration of various organisms - from bacteria in the pharmaceutical industry to the animals in biological research to the plants in agriculture - are still unknown. Genetically modified organisms may also escape into the wild, especially transgenic microorganisms, and these events may upset the balance of the ecosystem in nature. This may cause a decrease in the biodiversity, also known as the variety, of organisms.
About the Author
Joshua Suico is a university teacher specializing in chemistry and the life sciences. He holds a Master of Science degree in chemistry. During his college days, he once intentionally dropped sodium pellets into a sink for fun and for science.