In its most general sense, biotech can be used to refer to any sort of technology that uses biology to accomplish its end. This includes such "low-tech" methods as grafting different plants together, adding yeasts to a drink to ferment it into beer, or supplementing soil with organisms to help manage pest problems. In a more specific sense, the term is usually used to refer to a higher level of technological intercession, especially in the field of agriculture.
There are four main subfields of biotech that most implementations fit under: green, blue, white, and red. Green biotech has to do with plants and growing, blue has to do with aquatic uses of biological technology, white is used in industry, and red is used for medical purposes. While all four subfields have contributed a number of valuable processes, green biotech is probably the most widely used, while blue is still relatively rare.
White biotech, which is also sometimes referred to as grey biotech, primarily focuses on using biological organisms to produce or manipulate things in a way that is beneficial for industry. Some bacteria can be used to treat metals or plastics, for example, in a way that may be more efficient or more cost-effective than more traditional methods. Others may be used to actively produce a chemical or compound to be used in the industrial process. One exciting use of white biotech is a way of cleaning a contaminated environment by releasing bacteria that help break down or degrade the unwanted chemical. Bacteria that consume oil from oil spills are one example of this.
Red biotech is used to create substances for medical use or to directly aid the body in fighting a disease or illness. The practice of genetically modifying yeasts and bacteria to produce drugs is one widespread use, often allowing for the creation of drugs that would otherwise be impossible to manufacture. Manipulating a patient’s genome to cure a disease is another, relatively new use of red biotech.
Green biotech is easily the oldest use of biotechnology by humans, dating back to the first uses of selective breeding in plants, and in the modern age, it is also the most hotly contested area of biotechnological growth. The genetic modification of plants to produce desired effects — such as resistance to a certain chemical or pest, or increased crop yield — is widely used throughout the world on a number of crops, particularly staple food crops such as corn, rice, and soy. Many proponents believe that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to be much more environmentally friendly and to help solve food crises throughout the world. Opponents believe these transgenic food crops pose a threat to biodiversity, and may pose health risks as well.