Lesson #1: What is BioTechnology?

Maple seedsWhat is “Biotechnology”?

Here in Maine, an exciting new era in forest bioproducts and biotechnology has emerged during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, one that brings change to some industrial practices of the past while still allowing the traditional forest products industry to maintain its foothold throughout the state.   UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative (FBRI),  the largest research initiative in the state’s history, is striving to create a commercially viable,  wood-based biorefinery that can separate chipped wood into its components and produce valuable chemicals and extractives.  If successful, this biorefinery will be sited within the walls of existing, forest products manufacturing facilities such as pulp mills, providing added value to processes that have been in place for decades.      

So what is biotechnology and which FBRI practices fall under that definition?  

“Biotechnology” has its roots in ancient practices that can be traced back to some of the earliest civilizations. Agricultural practices and seeds evolved and spread beyond the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East into Europe and elsewhere around 9,000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia, the development of brewery fermentations arose in 6,000 B.C.   In pondering contemporary biotechnology, what come to mind may be genetically modified organisms or innovative pharmaceuticals.  Teachers may wish to refer to a section in the National PLT Biotechnology curriculum called “Biotechnology Background Information for Educators and Students” for additional, more-detailed information about this topic.  

Biotechnology that is involved in FBRI includes both traditional and modern ideas.  Just as the ancients used fermentation to meet their needs, one finds FBRI researchers employing  microorganisms to ferment sugars from wood to make ethanol and other valuable products.   Optimization of the wood-eating capability of these microbes relies on strategies of bioengineering that have only been available in the last few decades. 

Photo: Maple Seeds

Download All Materials for Lesson #1 or the following sections:

LESSON OUTLINE--Directions for Teachers DOC PDF
Student Handout #1--Is it Biotechnology DOC PDF
Student Handout #2--Card Sort Directions DOC PDF
Student Handout #3--Working definition of Biotechnology DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #1--Is It Biotechnology Background Key DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #2--Biotechnology Card Masters DOC PDF