Biotechnology Unzipped: Promises and Realities (1997)
Joseph Henry Press (JHP)
The views expressed in this book are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academies.
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Chapter 1
How Biotechnology Came About

If you want a quick insight into what modern biotechnology is all about, start thinking of yourself as being built and run by molecules. It's thanks to the cooperation of these small chemical units that you and I can blink, breathe, and read. Thanks to molecules, we once grew from microscopic fertilized eggs into functioning human beings.

The amazing thing is that these molecules are nothing special in and of themselves. They are combinations of only half a dozen common elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Every living thing on the planet is built from the same types of molecules and, at the molecular level of life, every living thing functions in fundamentally the same way, whether a human, a goldfish, a maple tree, or an earthworm.

Biotechnology operates at that molecular level of life, where the seemingly solid boundaries between species disappear. Down among the molecules, there is really no difference between a person and a bacterium. What biotechnology does is choreograph the complex dances among molecules that ultimately make every living thing what it is.


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