Biotechnology uses living forms, mainly simple cells like bacteria to make products that could come from other sources, but does it faster and more cheaply.
Much of biotechnology involves producing enzymes. Enzymes are useful because they are substrate-specific and generally have no side-effects on the end-users.
A major product of modern biotechnology is biopharmaceuticals, although this may change as the technology becomes more mature and more products are possible.
Organisms living under extreme conditions are known as extremophile organisms: they typically live either in very hot or very toxic conditions, or both.
Extremophiles are interesting sources of new enzymes, because they need such things to survive: Taq-polymerase, used in PCR, was obtained from an extremophile
Environmental technology often involves bioremediation, using either existing extremophiles or modified organisms to make dangerous substances safe.
In 1973, Stanley Norman Cohen and Herbert Wayne Boyer demonstrated that restriction enzymes could be used to transfer genes from one species to another.
The information gathered in genomics work can be applied through bioinformatics, a new science that links modern biological knowledge and computing.
We know very little about the microbes that share our planet, because most of them remain hidden at this stage, unless they infect us, our crops or our animals.
Most of the world's bacteria do not infect or harm us or the organisms we are most concerned about, and cannot be grown for study in pure cultures.
Many bacteria in the world are known only in complex ecosystems called biofilms, where they live with other species of bacteria in a cooperative system.
In 1980, The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in the Chakrabarty case that genetically altered life forms could be patented and so obtain legal protection.
Where companies had previously relied on trade secrets, the Chakrabarty case meant genetic engineering methods could now be used with more confidence.
In 1988, Leder and Stewart received a US patent for the Harvard mouse, genetically altered to be susceptible to cancer. A European patent was refused in 1989.
In 1994 British and American research institutions agreed not to patent human gene sequences, closing down some of the growing ethical fury over gene patents.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/scifun/splatsbiotech.htm, first created on February 16, 2008. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on February 16, 2008.