Biotechnology is the use of scientific knowledge about biological systems and living organisms to create new products and solve problems.
For thousands of years we have been using biotechnology in agriculture, food production and medicine, including:
- Domesticating wild plants and animals for farming, and using selective breeding to adapt them to our needs
- Using yeasts – a type of single-celled fungi – to make bread and beer, and bacteria to make yoghurt and cheese
- Extracting antibiotics such as penicillin from moulds (single-celled fungi)
- Using plant extracts as medicines; for example, aspirin from willow bark
More recent applications of biotechnology include:
- Bioremediation – using microbes to remove or neutralise pollutants; for example, the use of Pseudomonas bacterium to biodegrade oil spills
- Using genetically engineered bacteria to synthesise human insulin for people with diabetes
- Developing transgenic plants that can produce their own pesticides, are herbicide resistant, or contain extra vitamins
- Industrial fermentation to produce biofuels, such as ethanol, from waste materials
Biotechnology research and development in New Zealand mostly involves researchers working for Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), universities and private companies.
Key tertiary qualifications include:
- Bachelor of Science or Technology, majoring in Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Genetics or Molecular Biology
- Bachelor of Engineering, specialising in Chemical, Biological or Bioprocess Engineering
You will probably need a postgraduate qualification such as a Master’s degree or PhD to work in a research position. A Bachelor’s degree is often required even for technician-level roles.
Recommended school subjects:
- Maths, especially Calculus (required for engineering pathways)
- Physics (required for engineering pathways)
- Technology subjects