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Defining Biotechnology

September 10, 2012


the exploitation of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc..
Oxford Dictionary

This diagram shows some of the biotechnologies that we have been exploring at the Center. Unlike the above dictionary definition, the Center takes a broader view of what constitutes ‘biotechnology’. The diagram illustrates just a few of the biotechnologies employed in the human food system.

Contemporary debates are often fueled by the hype of a new technology, forgetting older ones that have been assimilated by everyday consumption patterns. This diagram can be one tool to help think through the lineage and history of biotechnology. Rather than having polarized debates about hopes and fears of emerging technologies, comparisons can be drawn from historical examples. How would the GM debate in the UK have been different if comparisons were made to the mutagenic experiments of the 50s? What conversations would arise from having cheesemakers at the table when creating new policies for GM breeding programs?

So building on Oxfords definition, a broader definition could be:

The exploitation of biological processes for cultural, political and economic purposes, including cheese making, brewing, pickling, the genetic manipulation of microorganisms for the production of food, antibiotics, etc..

If you have any other examples of biotechnologies that you think we should add to the diagram, email them to us and we’ll keep building on this initial gesture to make a more detailed directory.


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