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Biotechnology is the use of biological processes, organisms, or systems to manufacture products intended to improve the quality of human life. The earliest biotechnologists were farmers who developed improved species of plants and animals by cross pollenization or cross breeding. In recent years, biotechnology has expanded in sophistication, scope, and applicability.

The science of biotechnology can be broken down into subdisciplines called red, white, green, and blue. Red biotechnology involves medical processes such as getting organisms to produce new drugs, or using stem cells to regenerate damaged human tissues and perhaps re-grow entire organs. White (also called gray) biotechnology involves industrial processes such as the production of new chemicals or the development of new fuels for vehicles. Green biotechnology applies to agriculture and involves such processes as the development of pest-resistant grains or the accelerated evolution of disease-resistant animals. Blue biotechnology, rarely mentioned, encompasses processes in marine and aquatic environments, such as controlling the proliferation of noxious water-borne organisms.

Biotechnology, like other advanced technologies, has the potential for misuse. Concern about this has led to efforts by some groups to enact legislation restricting or banning certain processes or programs, such as human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. There is also concern that if biotechnological processes are used by groups with nefarious intent, the end result could be biological warfare.

Also see nanotechnology and genetic engineering .

This was last updated in May 2007

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