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 6
Biotechnology in Seas and Trees

The ability of biotechnology to develop new cures, design better crops, and reduce pollution ultimately depends on the properties of living things. It is on our planet's variety of organisms, and their multitude of chemical and genetic resources, that the future of biotechnology rests. Although the applications of biotechnology today use mainly familiar organisms from labs and farms, there is a vast untapped well of life around the world from which tomorrow's successes may flow.

Serendipitous discoveries from unlikely sources, such as the anticancer drug found in Pacific yew trees, hint at the possibilities to come. However, the sad truth is that we know next to nothing about the vast majority of living things that we share the planet with. All but six of the world's 33 major groups of animals are mainly marine, yet we know less about the oceans that cover two-thirds of the globe than we do about the moon. Tropical and temperate forests are home to a greater abundance of life than any other land ecosystem, yet we are clearing land of living forests at an unprecedented rate. Seeing no more to trees than fuel and building materials, we've squandered unknown numbers of organisms with every vanished hectare, not even knowing what we've lost.


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