Biotechnology was being used even in ancient times although in it’s more primitive and nascent form. A lot of evidence is available to suggest that making of curd, bread, wine and beer was known to pre-historic man. These processes were used in the kitchen by using the process of fermentation. Other methods of preserving the food items like-drying, smoking, curing , pickling in salt and brine etc were widely used by the prehistoric civilization residing around Near East and Europe. The traditional biotechnology refers to these conventional technologies which have been used for many centuries.

We are also familiar with the well documented process of mummification of dead bodies in Egypt using the technique of dehydration with a mixture of salts, largely sodium carbonate. Even before 2000 B.C. Egyptians also knew how to make vinegar from the crushed dates stored over a long period of time. Around 1500 B.C. people in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt, were widely using the technique of making wine from crushed grapes and beer from bread leaven using yeast and germinated cereals.

According to some scientists, Louis Pasteur should be considered as the “father of biotechnology” as it is he who identified the role of microorganisms in the process of fermentation. Later the process of Fermentation was properly documented in 18th century. With the development of new apparatus such as Barometer and air pump, the Fermentation process was classified into three groups:

- that which accompanied the evolution of gas.

- that which accompanied the formation of alcohol

- that which accompanied the production of acid.

The very first biotechnologists
A number of scientists contributed towards the better understanding of the process. Joseph Black showed that upon heating magnesium carbonate with acid, a gas is released which is quickly absorbed by quick lime in water.

Henry Cavendish, showed that same gas is released when the brown sugar in water was treated with yeast.

In 1772, Daniel Rutherford reported that when an animal is kept in a closed container and then died the residual air after passing through a solution of alkali was noxious air. This air proved to be Nitrogen as experiments done by Karl Wilhelm Scheele.

Later on Antoine Lavoisier provided the chemical basis for the nature of alcoholic Fermentation by using the analytical techniques for the quantitative estimation of carbon.

A French man, Nichola Appert (1810) described the method of food preservation. Peter Durand (1810) gave the use of tin container for food preservation by putting an air tight vessel containing food material in the boiling water.

In 1830, Charles B. Astier gave the concept that air is the carrier of all kinds of germs.Later experiments proved microorganisms to be the cause of fermentation. It was Charles Cagniard-Latour (1838) who gave the proof that alcoholic fermentation is cause due to the multiplication of brewer’s yeast. In 1857, Louis Pasteur first showed the formation of lactic acid from sugar through fermentation due to the presence of lactic yeast using a polarimeter.

In the early 19th century, the contributions of Eduard Buchner, Hans Buchner and Martin Hahn proved that fermentation process does not require the presence of living organism as it was possible to achieve the same results by using the cell-free press juice or the proteins obtained by disrupting the microbial cells.In 1884, Charles Chamberland constructed a porcelain bacterial filter which helped in the discovery of viruses and their role as disease causing agents.

With the understanding of the genetic constitution of various living organisms, the biotechnological revolution began in 1970s and 1980s.This is called the era of modern biotechnology. The major differences between the modern biotechnology and traditional /classical biotechnology are:
a) The modern biotechnology uses the capability of science to change the genetic material for getting new products for specific requirement through recombinant DNA technology.
b) The modern biotechnology specifies the ownership of technology and evaluates it’s socio-political impact.

A strong foundation of genetic engineering and modern biotechnology was laid down by Cohen and Boyer in 1973. They successfully introduced the desired genes of one organism into another and cloned the new genes. The development of recombinant DNA technology also greatly influenced the advancements in the field of biotechnology. In 1961, the first journal of Biotechnology and Bioengineering was launched. The first guidelines for rDNA research were issued by National Institute of Health, USA in 1976.
In 1978, the European Federation of Biotechnology was set up.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme court gave the ruling that genetically engineered microorganisms can be patented. The U.S. approved the Humulin (human insulin) – the first pharmaceutical product of rDNA technology, for human use way back in 1982. Encouraged by the rapid progress made in this field, the human genome project was officially launched in 1990 and by 2001 the human genome was sequenced. Another milestone was achieved in 1997 when the first mammalian sheep, Dolly was created by nuclear cloning. In 1993, the first genetically engineered tomatoes, FlavrSavr, were sold in the market.

In the 19th century a lot of Industries came up in the area of the production of wine, beer, whisky etc. and a lot of growth also took place in the canned food Industry which helped to preserve the food for a longer time and made them available during off seasons.The 20th century witnessed the transformation of small scale Industrial fermentation in to large-scale manufacturing in Industrial sector and commercial application of the techniques.Another aspect of the scenario came into fore, during the Gulf war in 1991, when the work on microorganisms dominated in the preparation of biological warfare, antibiotics and fermentation process. Suspected preparation of biological and chemical warfare led to US attack on Iraq in 2003.

As a result of interaction between various disciplines, lots of new branches came up like bioprocess engineering, food science engineering, metabolic engineering, artificial neural networks etc.The development in this exciting field is still going on rapidly which will solve some of the mysteries of life processes and at the same time open up many more new questions.


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