The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) refers to biotechnology as “scientific and technical methods applied to living organisms or their parts, products and models to change living or inanimate materials for the production of knowledge, goods and services” – a definition that can easily be divided into the different application areas with some color. The following are the most common but not all main colors:
She is trying to find solutions to medical problems. Be it in the therapy of diseases or diagnostics – the human being is the focus. Red biotechnology deals with diseases in which classical medicine reaches its limits. Particularly in the therapy of tumors, solutions are sought in order to selectively bring active substances to the diseased tissue and to release them exclusively there. These so-called drug delivery systems are used for healing. Genetic diagnosis methods, on the other hand, are susceptible to diseases or intolerance to medicines. And through tissue engineering, biotechnologists are trying to breed tissue to replace diseased body parts.
The focus is not on people, but on the world of plants. Through interventions in the genotype of the plants, biotechnologists change their properties. They are resistant by these changes to pests or they tolerate drought better than their natural relatives. Others grow faster or deliver higher yields. In the United States, food from genetically modified crops such as maize and soya is already a daily occurrence. In Europe, both laws and consumers’ skepticism are putting a stop to gene crops in the field. But it is not just the better properties of the plants that go into green biotechnology. At the intersection point to “red” are developments such as tobacco or potato plants, in which vaccines or medicines can be produced.
Blue as the world’s sea, is program in this branch of biotechnology. The organisms from the water offer a so far barely developed reservoir of life forms, whose characteristics can also be used on land. Bacteria, algae or sponges inspire drug discovery, fish waste can be used to produce high-quality products with small effort, and organisms that live under extreme conditions such as large depths or hot springs are the bridge to the fourth branch of biotechnology, the color white.
Sometimes referred to as gray biotechnology, it is to help with the biological know-how of industrial processes. In shades of grey, biotechnologists work with classical fermentation processes. If genetically modified organisms play a role, the scale shifts back to white. Sometimes, however, processes that are developed for environmental protection or which are particularly environmentally friendly also receive a gray tone. And the transition of established white processes to red biotechnology is not always clear. For example, the production of insulin for diabetes therapy by genetically modified living cells is one of the classics of biotechnology. Meanwhile, living cells in huge steel tanks produce antibiotics, vitamins and vaccines. Pure white – without red shimmer – this technology is used when it comes to the production of fibers, chemicals or fuels from starch, cellulose or vegetable oils with biological molecules. Biomolecules play a role even in the daily loading of the washing machine: they reduce the washing temperature by their cleaning power.