Biotechnology is a field that merges concepts from biology with concepts of technology. It is broken down into four separate disciplines that are often represented by specific colors: red, white, blue, and green. These colors represent medical processes, industrial processes, marine processes, and agricultural processes respectively.
Advancement is the primary benefit that biotechnology is able to provide. Early pioneers in this field used information about various plant species to create cross-breeding opportunities to improve yield, flavor, size, and color of their harvests. Today’s biotechnology specialists are doing the same thing, but on a much larger scale thanks to technology improvements in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Abuse is the primary disadvantage that biotechnology can provide. When the concepts of this field of study are misused, it can have a devastating effect on people, society, the environment, and even our planet. For that reason, certain areas of study in biotechnology, such as human cloning, have been restricted or outlawed outright. In the wrong hands, biotechnology can even create weapons of mass destruction.
Here are additional biotechnology pros and cons to think about.
The Pros of Biotechnology
1. It can improve health and reduce hunger simultaneously.
Biotechnology has helped to improve the nutritional content of our food supply. Necessary vitamins and minerals can be produced in croplands and this reduces health issues that are related to a lack of nutrients. At the same time, biotechnology also improves cropland yields and nutritional density, so people can eat less and still receive the same nutritional values. That allows more people to have the food they need.
2. It creates flexibility within the food chain.
Biotechnology can also help croplands be able to produce foods that may not be possible under “regular” conditions. Using concepts from this field of study, it is possible to grow crops in the desert. It is possible to create crops that are naturally resistant to pests. Although the amount of land our planet can provide is finite, biotechnology allows us to be able to use more of it for what we need.
3. It offers medical advancement opportunities.
Biotechnology allows us to look within just as easily as we can look to the outside world for advancement. Studies that involve the human genome have allowed us to understand more about genetic diseases and some cancers, creating more effective treatments for them – and sometimes cures. It has allowed us to explore the reasons behind certain birth defects to understand the importance of folic acid. That makes it possible to extend average human lifespans.
4. It allows us to preserve resources.
Biotechnology gives us an opportunity to extend the lifespan of our food supplies. Practices that include salting foods to preserve them date back beyond Biblical times. Freezing and drying foods as methods of preservation have been known for centuries. Pasteur pioneered an approach of heating food products to remove harmful elements so they can be preserved for an extended period.
5. It helps us minimize or eliminate waste products.
According to National Geographic, the footprint that humanity leaves on our planet from waste is quite extensive. In 2006, the United States generated 251 million tons of trash. That equates to nearly 5 pounds of trash per person, per day. 65% of trash comes from homes and 55% of that trash will end up in a landfill. Biotechnology allows us to create waste products that have better biodegradable properties. It allows us to manage landfills more effectively. That way we can begin to minimize the footprint being left for future generations.
6. It can reduce infectious disease rates.
Biotechnology has helped us to create vaccines. It has helped us be able to create treatments that reduce difficult symptoms of disease. It has even helped us to learn how infectious diseases can be transmitted so their transmission can be reduced. That allows us to protect those who are most vulnerable to these diseases, giving them a chance to live a happy, fulfilling life.
The Cons of Biotechnology
1. It creates an all-or-nothing approach.
One of the biggest problems that biotechnology faces is a lack of genetic diversity. The processes included in this field can increase crop yields and improve medical science, but it comes at the price of a genetic bottleneck. Should something unforeseen happen, an entire crop or medical treatment opportunity could go to waste or even threaten the survival of certain species.
2. It is a field of research with many unknowns.
Although our database of biotechnology has greatly expanded in the last generation, there are still many long-term unknowns that we face. What happens if we tinker with the genetics of a person to treat a disorder? What happens to the environment if we dramatically alter crops to grow in locations that would normally not support crop growth? Should every action have an equal and opposite reaction, future generations could pay the price for our research that is happening today.
3. It could ruin croplands.
Biotechnology has allowed more vitamins and minerals to enter our food chain, but it could be coming at a cost. Many crops obtain their nutritional content from the soil in which they grow. If that soil is overloaded by the crop, it may lose its viability, even with crop rotation occurring. That may reduce the amount of growing time each land segment is able to provide while extending its recovery period at the same time. In some situations, the croplands could be permanently ruined.
4. It turns human life into a commodity.
In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that DNA which is lab manipulated is eligible to be patented. The foundation of this ruling was that altered DNA sequences are not found in nature. At the moment, complementary DNA, or cDNA, has been specifically mentioned as an example of what could be patented. Obtaining DNA to create altered DNA sequences for profit minimizes human life (or plant and animal life) to profit potential. It also opens the door to ethical and moral questions, such as when human life begins, with the purpose of maximizing the dollars and cents that can be obtained.
5. It can be used for destruction.
All the benefits that biotechnology can provide could also be turned into a weapon that is used for mass destruction. Crops can be improved, but they can also be destroyed. Medicines can be made with biotechnology, but diseases can also be weaponized. If left unchecked, biotechnology could even create a societal class that is created specifically for research purposes only.
Biotechnology has done much to improve our way of life. It has helped the world to become a much smaller place. At the same time, we still face many challenges that must be overcome.