What is biotechnology

Biotechnology, intended in the broadest sense of the term, can be defined as a set of technological tools that exploit the knowledge of molecular biology and other advanced life sciences, and uses living organisms (such as bacteria, yeast, plant cells, animal cells of simple or complex organisms) or their purified sub-cellular components (organelles and enzymes) to produce useful results in the field of health, agriculture, industry and environment.

The term "biotechnology" (from Greek words "bios" = everything to do with life and "technikos" = involving human knowledge and skills) is a new word that describes an ancient discipline dating back to prehistoric times: in fact, already thousands of years ago man, although in a total unconscious way, used yeasts for the production of beer, wine and bread, and turned milk into yogurt and cheese with the help of lactic-type fermenting bacteria.
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was the first to realize that some mysterious microorganisms lied behind these transformations. With the studies of Pasteur, who can rightly be considered the father of biotechnology, are thus laid the foundations for the fermentation processes exploited by the bio industry, which makes use of pure cultures of microorganisms for the production of food, beverages and other useful products.
 
The dividing line, which allows talking about innovative biotechnology, is represented by recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering), developed in the Eighties. This term refers to a very heterogeneous set of techniques that allow isolating genes (specific portions of a DNA of interest), cloning, introducing and expressing them in a heterologous host (i.e.,  different from the original host), which can be a bacterium or a eukaryotic cell. Therefore, these techniques allow conferring new characteristics to the recipient cells, which become more suitable to meet specific needs.