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close this bookBiotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture (GRAIN, 1991)
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View the document(introduction...)
View the documentCutting and pasting
View the documentAbout language and limitations
View the documentCulturing cells and tissues
View the documentControlling the process
View the documentA new threshold?

Controlling the process

Enzyme and fermentation technology is so old and widely used that it is often forgotten as one of the crucial elements of the new biotechnologies.

Denominated as 'bioprocess technology' by the US Office of Technology Assessment, (10) it involves the production of desired substances by cells or micro-organisms at an industrial scale. Fermentation has been used by humanity since its very beginning, to preserve food, or simply to make it taste better. In its simplest form it consists of letting microbes go to work on basic food stuff thus transforming its structure Perhaps the masters of fermentation technology are the Japanese with their age old experience in the production of soybean sauce and paste, using microbes. With the new biotechnologies the same principles are applied to mass-produce cells, embryos, and any other part of living matter. The system is being made more efficient through the use of specific enzymes that do the same job as the microbes. Often this approach is limited by the problem that the cells and enzymes are mixed with the end-product, which therefore has to be cleaned up afterwards. But now, several techniques for immobilizing both enzymes and cells are being developed to get around that problem.

Among the new biotechnologies, enzyme and fermentation technologies are generally seen as the 'scaling-up' tools to create large quantities of certain products, using cells or enzymes that have been carefully designed by the biotechnologists. Indeed, much of today's cell culture technology would make no commercial sense if at some point the end result could not be scaled-up in fermentation tanks. The same is true for artificial seed technology, and for many other pharmaceutical and food related biotechnologies.