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Biotechnology

The contribution of Biotechnology to Europe's industry sectors

Biotechnology makes a significant contribution to the modernisation of Europe's industry sectors. Its broad range of high-tech applications is increasingly playing a role in enhancing our competitiveness, raising economic growth and improving the welfare of European citizens. The main application areas of modern biotechnology can be classified into three groups: healthcare and pharmaceutical applications; industrial processes and manufacturing; and agriculture, livestock, veterinary products and aquaculture.

In healthcare, modern biotechnology has brought about a revolution in the discovery and development of new medicines, advanced therapies, diagnostics and vaccines. Many innovative medicines (biopharmaceuticals) that have been marketed during the last years are the result of biotechnological breakthroughs and a great number of patients suffering from diseases for which there was no adequate treatment can now be treated (examples: growth diseases, metabolic diseases, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer's). Biotechnology has also given new and potentially safer vaccines which can be produced in greater quantities, and new advanced tools for diagnosis and prevention of disease.

In agriculture, modern biotechnology is being applied to improve the nutritional value and digestibility of animal feed, to produce vaccines that have eradicated animal diseases, to provide diagnostics to detect diseases such as BSE, foot and mouth disease, and salmonella. Biotechnology diagnostics are furthermore used to detect pathogens in the food-chain so as to ensure that our food is safe to eat. Modern biotechnology has enabled the use of enzymes for the processing of food products and beverages, such as beer, fruit juice, cheese, and bread. In the breeding and propagation of plants, molecular marker assisted breeding has become a method to select certain traits in plants. Genetically modified organisms are another example of breeding plants with certain characteristics.

In industrial processes, enzymes are used in the production of detergents, pulp and paper, textiles, and biomass for energy production. By using fermentation and biocatalysis instead of traditional chemical synthesis, higher process efficiency can be obtained, resulting in a decrease in energy and water consumption, and a reduction of toxic waste. Bio-based products from renewable raw material (e.g. plants or trees) can offer both a reduction in CO2 and other advantages such as lower toxicity or novel product characteristics (e.g. biodegradable plastic materials).

Marine biotechnology means using marine organisms, or their derivatives, to provide solutions in a wide variety of fields, which could include healthcare, food, cosmetics, adhesives, paints, aquaculture, fisheries, agriculture, environmental remediation, biofilms and corrosion, biomaterials, bioprocessing, research tools, and so on. It is still an emerging research area, but marine bio-resources have been used to produce pharmaceuticals, and there are currently four marine-based drugs on the market and about 40 in clinical or preclinical development.

The examples above and detailed information can be found in the Bio4EU study which was published by the Commission's Joint Research Centre/IPTS. It gives ample evidence of the economic, societal and environmental impact of biotechnology in Europe: "Consequences, opportunities and challenges of modern biotechnology for Europe".

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