Study Guide

Biotechnology Introduction

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Biotechnology Introduction

What is biotechnology? It sounds like the plot point of the movie Gattaca. Maybe sci-fi images of cloned creatures marching in a line come to mind. The word biotechnology might also conjure up images of scientists in white coats plotting the destruction of the world. It's actually not as complex and intimidating as it sounds. Biotechnology is all over the place. Don't worry, there's no need to run for cover. 

Biotechnology has been occurring for thousands of years. In agriculture, plants have been bred to produce larger yields. Animals have been specifically bred to produce more meat, more milk, or perhaps more wool. Wool is especially important for all the sweater-wearing penguins of the world

Now that we know biotechnology is all up in our cookies and milk, it's safe to say it covers a broad range of techniques. Some of them are relatively straightforward, like picking plants that naturally produce the most seeds for next year's harvest. Others involve molecular biology and biochemical techniques to manipulate genes.

In this chapter, we will peek inside the biotechnology toolbox and look at some of the most common techniques used by scientists. We will cover DNA technology, gene expression, and function. Then we will get into how organisms are cloned. Most of these techniques have been developed to serve some sort of purpose outside of science. Gasp. We will play a little CSI and look at how biotechnology is used in forensics and medical applications.

Although some aspects of biotechnology have been around much longer than you, other aspects are cutting edge. The field is rapidly evolving and will continue to do so as we learn more and more about science.

Biotechnology Resources


Stem Cells
Everything you've always wanted to know about stem cells and more.

Cord Blood Stem Cells
A site that lists the diseases and conditions that have been treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells. Use of these cells eliminates the ethical concerns surrounding the way embryonic stem cells are obtained.

The Innocence Project
Link to an organization dedicated to using DNA evidence to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. As of the completion of the end of 2012, 301 individuals have been exonerated. Way to go, DNA!

DNA files
Why listen to Lady Gaga (or maybe Bruce Springsteen is more your type) the next time you go out for a walk or run when you can fill your mind with some brain food? DNA files offers mp3s discussing genetic advances and their implications.

DNA Interactive
Learn everything you've ever wanted to know about DNA. This site includes videos and interviews to help you visualize some of the techniques discussed in this guide.

All Things Genome
This site is run by the National Institutes of Health and has a special site just for students. Here, you can quench your thirst for genomic knowledge by keeping up to date with current research as well as the ethical issues surrounding the use of genomic info. Did you know that there is a National DNA Day? If not, make sure you like it on Facebook and follow it on Twitter. You'll be the coolest kid in school. Well, we can't promise that.

Forensics Games
Are you addicted to CSI? Maybe you can't tear yourself away from X-files reruns. Maybe you're thinking about a career as a forensic scientist. If any of these apply to you, you must immediately head to this site. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Just go straight here. This site has interactive activities that allow you to learn more about forensics. Unleash your inner geek now!

GMO Myths
A site that looks at the science behind the myths to see if it can be busted. Sometimes there's fact in the fiction, and these scientists tell it like it is, whether it supports their point of view or not. You know…because…science.

The Ultimate in Convenience Foods
How do you grow a seedless watermelon if there are no seeds to replant? And how we will ever decide the seed spitting contest at the Shmoop Family Picnic? Guess we'll have to switch to sunflowers.

Genetically Modified Foods
Learn how and why to manipulate genomes for your sinister and devious plans. Or use your powers for good and solve world hunger. The choice is yours.


RNA interference and then some
This video gives the history, nuts, and bolts of RNAi as well as a good review of the central dogma.

J. Craig Venter and Designing Life
J. Craig Venter was the mastermind behind the shotgun approach to genome sequencing. He's moved on and has created a synthetic bacterium. This is a 60 Minute video that profiles this sometimes-controversial scientist and his accomplishments.

Still confused on how PCR works? Check out this rap video and you'll be singing PCR's praises in no time! Okay, it might be a little cheesy, but we guarantee you won't forget the catchy jingle.

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