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Chapter: Pharmaceutical Biotechnology: Fundamentals and Applications - Molecular Biotechnology

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Molecular Biotechnology: Introduction

Biotechnology has been defined in many different ways. Specific definitions for pharmaceutical biotech-nology can be deduced directly from these definitions.

Molecular Biotechnology

INTRODUCTION

Biotechnology has been defined in many different ways. Specific definitions for pharmaceutical biotech-nology can be deduced directly from these definitions. In general biotechnology implies the use of micro-organisms, plants, and animals or parts thereof for the production of useful compounds. Consequently, pharmaceutical biotechnology should be considered as biotechnological manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.

Biotechnology has been defined in many different ways. Specific definitions for pharmaceutical biotech-nology can be deduced directly from these definitions. In general biotechnology implies the use of micro-organisms, plants, and animals or parts thereof for the production of useful compounds. Consequently, pharmaceutical biotechnology should be considered as biotechnological manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.

Insight into the nature of the traditional processes was achieved about 1870 when Pasteur made clear that chemical conversions in these processes are performed by living cells and should thus be considered as biochemical conversions. Biotechnology became science! In the decades after Pasteur knowledge in-creased when the role of enzymes as catalysts for most of the biochemical conversions became apparent. Based on that knowledge, tools became available to control and optimize the traditional processes to a certain extent.

A further and very important breakthrough took place after the development of molecular biology. The notion, brought forward by the pioneers in molecular biology around 1950, that DNA encodes proteins and in this way controls all cellular processes was the impetus for a new period in biotechnology. The fast evolving DNA technologies, after the development of the recombinant DNA technology in the seventies, allowed biotechnologists to control gene expression in the organisms used for biotechnological manufactur-ing. Moreover, the developed technologies opened ways to introduce foreign DNA into all kinds of organisms. As will be shown later, genetically modified organisms constructed in that way opened up complete new possibilities for biotechnology. Thenew form of biotechnology, based on profound knowledge of the DNA molecule and the availability of manipulation technologies of DNA, is frequently described as “molecular biotechnology.” The possibi-lities of the molecular approaches for further devel-opment of biotechnology were immediately apparent, albeit that the expectations sometimes were over-estimated. At the same time biotechnology became the subject of public debate. An important question in the debate deals with potential risks: Do genetically modified organisms as used in production facilities pose unknown risks for an ecosystem and for the human race itself? Moreover, a profound ethical question was brought forward: Is it right to modify the genetic structure of living organisms?

In this chapter we will focus mainly on the new biotechnology by describing its means and goals. As to the question concerning potential risks of the technology, we will confine ourselves to stating that all sorts of measurements are taken to avoid risks while using genetically modified organisms. The ethical aspects, interesting as they are, are beyond the scope of this chapter.


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