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Introducción a la biotecnología

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La biotecnología puede entenderse de forma muy general como el uso de cualquier organismo en beneficio del hombre. Bajo esta definición, los primeros indicios de biotecnología pueden remontarse hasta la Revolución Neolítica, donde los seres humanos comenzaron a usar masivamente la agricultura y la ganadería. Sin saberlo, a lo largo de los siglos los agricultores y ganaderos han ido modificando genéticamente cultivos y ganado; al seleccionar aquellos individuos que mejor rendimiento les daban. Pero tambien han existido otras formas de biotecnología primitiva, como es el uso muy extendido de la fermentación para transformar unos productos en otros. Un buen ejemplo de esto es la fabricación de la cerveza (a partir de la fermentación de la cebada), que ya era dominada por sumerios y egipcios seis milenios antes de Cristo. Otros ejemplos son el uso del vinagre (a partir de la fermentación del vino) como conservante o la fermentación de la leche para obtener yougures, quesos y derivados.

Cultures such as those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Pakistan developed the process of brewing beer. It is still done by the same basic method of using malted grains (containing enzymes) to convert starch from grains into sugar and then adding specific yeasts to produce beer. In this process the carbohydrates in the grains were broken down into alcohols such as ethanol. Ancient Indians also used the juices of the plant Ephedra Vulgaris and used to call it Soma. Later other cultures produced the process of Lactic acid fermentation which allowed the fermentation and preservation of other forms of food. Fermentation was also used in this time period to produce leavened bread. Although the process of fermentation was not fully understood until Louis Pasteur’s work in 1857, it is still the first use of biotechnology to convert a food source into another form.

'Biotechnology' is the practice of using plants, animals and micro-organisms such as bacteria, as well as biological processes - such as the ripening of fruit or the bacteria that break down compost - to some benefit. For example, in industry, medicine and agriculture, biotechnology is used to produce foods, medicines, test for diseases and remove waste

What is new about biotechnology today is that researchers can take a single gene from a plant or animal cell and insert it into another plant or animal cell of a different species (this is called transgenic technology).

Modern biotechnology also includes altering the genes within an organism to control the expression of a particular protein. Changing genes in this way can go far beyond the changes that occur naturally during evolution, or the artificial, but slower, changes brought about by traditional selective breeding.

Other areas of modern biotechnology that do not necessarily involve genetic engineering include the use of enzymes and bacteria in a wide range of applications, such as waste management, industrial production, food production and remediation of contaminated land. Animal breeding, pharmaceutical products and medical procedures are also benefiting from advances in biotechnology.

Cheese, yoghurt, wine, beer and bread are all made using micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast. Beer is recorded in Egyptian medical texts from 1600 BC for use as a prescription medicine, and primitive cheese-making tools have been found in Iron Age settlements in Britain.

While we don’t yet know about the function of every gene in humans, plants and animals, we can work with the knowledge we do have. For example, researchers can locate an area of a chromosome that seems to include a group of genes that has a significant effect on a characteristic of the animal or plant. While they don’t know what the genes are or their exact function, they know the genes affect a certain characteristic. They also know where the genes are located – i.e. which chromosome and which area on the chromosome.

To work out which variation of genes the plant or animal has, genetic markers are used. Genetic markers are thought to have no function and no impact on animal survival, but can be easily identified in the laboratory. Genetic markers act like landmarks to indicate where in the genome the genes of interest are located.

Imagen:Biotecnología en la historia.PNG.PNG
Biotecnología en la historia

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