” The potential for synthetic biology and biotechnology is vast; we all have an opportunity to create the future together.”
Ryan Bethencourt, Scientist
The Pros & Cons of Biotechnology
Biotechnology is an area of biology which typically involves the use of living organisms to make several kinds of products. It is also quite important in the area of medical research in order to cure diseases.
Although biotechnology has many other important advantages, there are also some problems related to it. In this article, the pros and cons of biotechnology are shown.
Fields of Application of Biotechnology
- Industrial processes
- Food production
- Energy production
- Environmental purposes
- Agricultural processes
- Regulatory purposes
- Invention of new technologies
Biotechnology is used in a variety of industrial processes. Among others, it is frequently used for the production of chemicals, detergents, textiles and paper.
Many companies have recognized the huge potential of biotechnology and apply it in order to make overall production processes more efficient and to increase output levels.
Biotechnology can also be used in the food sector. Companies are now able to add plenty of artificial flavors to our food, which may taste quite natural to you as a customer.
By doing so, food production companies can increase their profits since they do not have to use costly natural ingredients but can rather use cheap artificial flavors instead.
Also in the field of energy production, biotechnology plays a crucial role. Since we as humanity still rely on fossil fuels as main source for power production, it is crucial to transit to renewable green energies as soon as possible.
One promising renewable energy source are biofuels, which are produced from several sorts of biomass. Thus, biotechnology can improve the efficiency of this kind of energy production by maximizing crop yields and therefore the production levels of biofuels.
Biotechnology can also have a significant positive environmental effect. For instance, if our processes related to farming can be optimized and crop yields can be increased, less space has to be used for farming purposes, which in turn means that we could protect more natural habitats for animals and plants.
Moreover, biotechnology can also help us to reduce pollution levels of many sorts and therefore to improve our overall ecological footprint.
Another important field of application of biotechnology is medicine. Biotechnology has a huge impact on the development of drugs and to cure diseases.
Thus, by using biotechnology in the medical health sector, we could improve our overall quality of life and also increase the life expectancy on a global scale.
Biotechnology is also crucial when it comes to agricultural processes. Through the use of genetically modified crops, farmers are able to produce much higher yields and output levels in farming can be maximized due to that.
Thus, also the profits of many farmers increased due to the invention and application of biotechnological processes.
Biotechnology can also be a tool in order to evaluate whether a genetically modified product should be approved for the mass market or not. Politicians and regulatory authorities often do not have the knowledge to decide if a genetically altered product is dangerous.
Thus, they have to rely on scientists which specialized in biotechnology. Therefore, biotechnology also plays an important role to determine whether products are safe or not from an objective perspective in order to assure the safety of the general public.
Invention of new technologies
Biotechnology will be quite important to develop new technologies in the future. Since we as humanity have many environmental problems to solve, it is crucial that we develop our technologies further in order to be able to deal with those problems in an effective manner.
The altering of genetic material through the use of biotechnological knowledge may play a crucial role in order to achieve those goals.
Advantages of Biotechnology
- High-quality food
- Fewer herbicides or pesticides have to be used
- More efficient farming
- Higher output levels
- Efficient use of our natural resources
- Mitigation of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
- Products will have a longer shelf-life
- Effective measure to reduce the starvation problem
- Especially suitable for areas with extreme weather conditions
- Mass production of important medicines
- Diseases related to genetic disorders can be treated more effectively
- Lower level of dependence on other countries
- Increase in efficiency in industrial processes
- Higher fraction of biodegradable products
- Less plastic waste
- Less air pollution
- Slowing down global warming
One important advantage of biotechnology is that it can be used for the production of high-quality food. Since genetics can be altered through genetic engineering, scientists can assure that the crops that are grown contain higher levels of certain healthy components.
Thus, biotechnology can help us to create some kinds of superfoods, which may in turn benefit our health since our body can be optimally supplied with large amounts of healthy components.
Fewer herbicides or pesticides have to be used
Through biotechnology and changes in the genetic code of plants, fewer pesticides and herbicides have to be used in farming. In turn, the food will be much healthier for consumers since they do not have to eat vegetables are fruits that are contaminated with large amounts of those harmful substances.
Moreover, a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides also greatly benefits our environment. For instance, those substances are quite harmful to the soil.
In the long run, the excessive use of pesticides may decrease the fertility of the soil and large areas of land may no longer be suitable for farming anymore after a while.
Thus, it is crucial that we find ways to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and other harmful substances in order to protect our soil.
More efficient farming
Another upside of biotechnology is that it can lead to more efficient farming practices. For instance, crops may grow faster through the use of genetic modifications.
Plants may also need less water, which may become quite important in the future since through global warming, water will become a quite scarce resource.
Higher output levels
In general, since the genetics of plants can be optimized through the use of biotechnology, also the output levels can be maximized. Thus, through the use of sophisticated genetic engineering, crop yields can be increased substantially.
In turn, this may lead to a better supply of food for the local population, especially in poor developing countries where many people still suffer from starvation.
Efficient use of our natural resources
Since many of our natural resources are non-renewable, it is crucial to use those resources as efficiently as possible in order to get the most out of it. We as humanity cannot afford to waste those precious fossil resources since we will never be able to replace them again.
Thus, it is crucial to use the methods from biotechnology in order to use our natural resources in the most efficient manner so that humanity can progress further.
Mitigation of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
Especially in poor developing countries, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies are quite common and pose a big problem for the local population. Many children do not get enough of those precious components, which can lead to all sorts of health issues in the long run.
However, through the use of biotechnology, we might be able to increase the concentration of vitamins and nutrients in plants and therefore, biotechnology might be able to help to overcome the nutrient deficiency problem of many people by providing them food that contains more of those precious components.
Products will have a longer shelf-life
Through biotechnological processes, we have been able to significantly prolong the shelf-life of products. For instance, products are often evacuated in order to increase durability. Moreover, plenty of other packaging materials are used in order to preserve our food items.
In turn, biotechnology also enables us to produce less food waste since we can store many of our foods in the fridge for a quite long time.
Effective measure to reduce the starvation problem
Millions of people still suffer from starvation on a global scale. This is especially true in the Southern hemisphere of our planet. In order to overcome this issue, we have to find ways to supply people in poor developing countries with methods to increase their crop yields.
One way to do so is to use genetically modified plants in order to maximize crop yields, which in turn could mitigate the global hunger problem since one farmer could feed more people compared to a state without the use of biotechnological inventions.
Especially suitable for areas with extreme weather conditions
Areas that are heavily affected by extreme weather conditions will be rather unsuitable for farming practices since crops often like rather moderate weather conditions and may not grow optimally in deserts or in the artic.
However, by modifying the genetic code of plants, we might be able to create more climate-resistant strains which may also grow quite well in regions with extreme weather states.
Thus, this could improve the quality of life of millions of people who are currently not able to engage in farming practices due to extreme droughts.
Mass production of important medicines
Thanks to biotechnological processes and extensive research, our medical progress also moves forward quite rapidly.
We are now able to treat many diseases in an efficient manner that we were not able to treat a few decades ago.
Moreover, we are now able to produce important medical equipment and drugs on a large scale with the help of mass production.
All this gives us the opportunity to provide billions of people on our planet with important medical treatment in order to cure serious diseases.
Diseases related to genetic disorders can be treated more effectively
Especially in the area of genetic disorders and diseases, biotechnology can play a major role since it may be able to alter the genetic code in order to cure those diseases.
Although we are currently not able to entirely cure many genetic defects, research will progress and chances are that we might be able to do so in the near future.
At least, we might be able to find ways to fight the symptoms in order to improve the quality of life for people suffering from those genetic disorders.
Lower level of dependence on other countries
Through the use of genetically modified crops, countries may also no longer be able to rely on other countries to ensure their food supply. This may not only be true for food, it may also include various other products.
Thus, by using biotechnology, countries could apply genetic engineering processes to all kinds of local industries and therefore produce enough own products in order to become independent from other countries, which may improve their market position and strengthen their competitiveness in the global trade game.
Increase in efficiency in industrial processes
Another benefit of biotechnology is that it can increase the overall efficiency of industrial processes. Various different companies can benefit from the latest research findings of biotechnology since they will be able to optimize their production processes due to those findings.
Therefore, companies that use biotechnological knowledge may be more successful and get a competitive edge over companies who do not use this technology.
Higher fraction of biodegradable products
Biotechnology may also allow us to produce higher fractions of biodegradable products. This is quite important since we produce plenty of waste that either has to be burned or disposed into landfills. Both methods imply serious environmental problems.
Through the production of more biodegradable products and packaging materials, we might be able to significantly reduce our global waste production, which would imply many important environmental benefits.
Less plastic waste
Through the increasing production of biodegradable items, we would also be able to reduce our plastic waste. This could greatly benefit our environment since large amounts of plastic waste will end up in our lakes, rivers and oceans.
Not only does this have severe consequences for many aquatic animals and plants, it can also hurt human health since through the food chain, plenty of microplastics will end up in our bodies in the long run.
Thus, a reduction of plastic waste through the use of biotechnological processes may have many important benefits for all living organisms on our planet.
Less air pollution
For the production of our material goods, large amounts of fossil fuels are still used on a daily basis.
Moreover, this is also true for our energy production. However, the use of fossil fuels also implies the emission of large amounts of harmful gases into our atmosphere, which contributes to air pollution, particle pollution and smog.
In order to mitigate those problems, it is crucial to switch from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources like biofuels, which can be produced with the help of biotechnological processes.
Slowing down global warming
Through the use of biofuels instead of conventional fossil fuels, we can also slow down global warming to a certain extent since less harmful greenhouse gases will be emitted into the atmosphere.
Thus, biotechnology may also be crucial to mitigating the climate change issue, which is one of the greatest environmental threats for humanity right now.
Disadvantages of Biotechnology
- Involves the use of genetic engineering and GMOs
- GMO characteristics can unintentionally be adapted by other plants
- The soil may become less fertile
- Problems with hybrids through cross–pollination
- Small farmers who don’t use GMOs may go out of business
- High levels of local unemployment
- Increase of poverty in some poor countries
- Overproduction may become a big problem
- Food exports may shrink
- Biodiversity loss
- Health problems related to GMOs
- Excessive amounts of artificial flavors in our food
- Epidemics or pandemics
- Spread of plant diseases
- Unclear long-term effects
- Ethical concerns regarding genetic engineering
- May be dangerous in the wrong hands
Involves the use of genetic engineering and GMOs
As we have seen from the previous analysis, biotechnology has many important advantages. However, the use of biotechnological processes may also imply some problems. One downside of biotechnology is that it often relies on genetic engineering in order to improve processes or yields.
However, critics of genetic engineering often claim that it can be dangerous to humanity since we do not sufficiently understand the processes and implications behind it yet.
Some scientists even claim that genetic engineering may eventually become a serious threat to humanity. Thus, the reliance on genetic modification of biotechnology can imply serious problems.
GMO characteristics can unintentionally be adapted by other plants
The use of genetically modified plants in agriculture can also lead to a state where other plants that occur naturally in the environment may adopt some characteristics of GMOs.
However, this could cause serious environmental problems since those plants may now be able to grow much faster and may displace other natural species who may no longer be able to compete against those modified organisms.
This may lead to a state where only a few plant species may control large areas of land.
The soil may become less fertile
Another issue of biotechnology is that optimization processes related to this kind of technology often lead to a state where the soil may become less fertile and may eventually become even unsuitable for agricultural processes.
Genetically modified plants may be able to grow faster and produce higher yields, however, they also extract more nutrients out of the soil. In turn, the soil will become less fertile quite soon.
Thus, planting those GMOs may increase profits of farmers in the short run, but may lead to serious issues in the long run due to the loss of fertility of the soil.
Problems with hybrids through cross-pollination
If different genetically modified plants are grown too close to each other, chances are that there will be cross-pollinations and the genetic code of both plant species may be altered in an unwanted manner.
This may greatly reduce crop yields in the long run, which may also imply serious financial issues for farmers.
Small farmers who don’t use GMOs may go out of business
Through the use of biotechnology in agricultural processes, yields can be maximized and profits can be increased, at least in the short run. Through higher yields with less input, big farming companies who use genetically optimized plants may be able to produce vegetables and fruits much cheaper compared to small farmers who do not want to engage in GMO farming.
However, through this competitive advantage and the cheap prices big farming companies can offer to retailers, small farmers may go out of business in the long run since they will no longer be able to sell their products at sufficiently high prices anymore due to the increased price pressure from big farmers.
High levels of local unemployment
Since many smaller farming companies may go out of business, also many workers may lose their jobs. This may in turn lead to serious levels of local unemployment, especially in regions with weak economic infrastructure since there might be no other jobs apart from farming in those regions.
Increase of poverty in some poor countries
Even though biotechnology has the potential to increase crop yields and therefore to feed a larger number of people on a global scale, it actually often contributes to the opposite outcome. Poverty is not only caused by insufficient production, but often rather caused by the unequal distribution of goods.
For instance, many locals may still suffer from poverty and starvation since only a small number of big farmers may profit from the increased yields and profits due to the use of biotechnology while the huge majority of the local population may still be trapped in poverty.
Overproduction may become a big problem
Another significant disadvantage of biotechnology is that it might lead to a serious overproduction of food. For instance, if every farmer on our planet would use genetically modified plants, we would produce far too much food and plenty of this food would be disposed into the garbage instead of consumed.
Thus, overproduction makes no sense at all and would rather hurt our environment than doing any good for our planet.
Food exports may shrink
Since many countries would be able to produce higher amounts of vegetables and plants inside their country and would not need that much food imports anymore to supply the local population, global food exports might shrink significantly.
While this doesn’t have to be bad since transportation distances would become smaller, it can hurt some countries who rely on food exports in order to make enough money to finance infrastructural projects and other things that are crucial for a country to develop in a healthy manner.
The use of biotechnology can also lead to a serious loss of biodiversity. Since the genetics of crops are altered in a yield-maximizing manner, chances are that at some point in time, only a few main strains will be left while the vast majority of strains that had been previously planted will no longer be used anymore.
This biodiversity loss can lead to serious problems since if we as humanity only rely on a quite confined set of plant strains, chances are that we will be hit in a dramatic manner in case those strains will no longer supply us with sufficient yields anymore. Thus, this reliance on a few main strains poses a significant threat to our global food supply.
Health problems related to GMOs
The use of genetically modified organisms is often connected to several serious health problems. Critics of GMO use claim that we may not be able to judge whether GMOs can truly adversely impact our health or not since they are not around for long enough to make a proper judgement.
Therefore, it might not be a good idea to use those GMOs since they might pose serious health issues for humanity in the long run.
Excessive amounts of artificial flavors in our food
Even though the flavors of our foods may improve due to the use of biotechnology, products may also become unhealthier since plenty of artificial flavors are often used by food manufacturers in order to improve their profits.
This may lead to additional long-term health problems related to biotechnological processes
Epidemics or pandemics
Even though most scientists claim that research related to genetic modification of organism would be done in quite a safe environment and that there would be no need to worry, chances are that at one point in time, an accident happens and genetically modified bacteria or other harmful organisms might be able to escape from laboratories, which could cause serious epidemics or even pandemics.
Spread of plant diseases
If only a few genetically optimized plant strains are used in agriculture in order to maximize profits, those plants will be quite vulnerable since plant diseases can easily spread across large fields and many plants may die off or produce only quite small yields due to those diseases.
Thus, the lower the genetic variety of plants in agriculture, the more likely it becomes that only a single plant disease can destroy vast amounts of plants and yields.
Unclear long-term effects
Since biotechnology and genetic engineering have not been around for too long, we don’t know the true effects and dangers related to them yet.
For instance, it might turn out in a few decades that there are serious health problems related to the consumption of genetically modified crops.
Thus, since we do not have proper knowledge of the long-term effects yet, it might be dangerous to use biotechnological processes at this point in time.
Ethical concerns regarding genetic engineering
There are also many people who claim that we should also refrain from biotechnological processes due to ethical reasons. In their opinion, through genetic manipulation of organisms, humanity plays god to a certain extent and that this should not be the case.
Thus, it is also questionable from an ethical perspective whether the use of genetic modifications related to biotechnology can be justified or not.
May be dangerous in the wrong hands
Biotechnology can also be quite dangerous when it is used by the wrong people. For instance, radical groups may misuse genetic manipulation in order to create a certain kind of virus that may be used for attacks. Thus, biotechnology also has the potential to do great damage if it falls into the wrong hands.
Top 10 Biotechnology Pros & Cons – Summary List
|Biotechnology Pros||Biotechnology Cons|
|High quality of food||Biotechnology uses genetic engineering|
|More nutrients and vitamins||Biodiversity loss|
|Higher crop yields||Epidemics|
|Efficient use of our natural resources||Problems with cross pollination|
|Longer shelf-life||Health problems|
|Assurance of supply with medical products||Unclear long-term effects|
|May mitigate starvation||May be used for wrong purposes|
|Less plastic waste||Soil may become less fertile over time|
|Less pollution||Small farmers may go out of business|
|Less greenhouse gas emissions||Higher local unemployment|
Biotechnology has many important advantages and can be used for a variety of purposes. However, it also implies some serious problems and governments around the world should make sure to set strict regulations in order to ensure that biotechnology is used to improve the quality of life on a global scale and not for other purposes that could potentially even wipe out humanity.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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