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Biotechnology is simply defined as the development of products by using a biological process.  Production may be carried out by using intact organisms of bacteria, fungi and other microbes, or by using natural substances created by the organisms, such as enzymes.  The United States, and specifically California, is a world leader in the area of new biotechnology, a multi billion dollar industry. 

The use of new biotechnology for cleaning up major environmental concerns may be in its infancy, but practical applications are underway.  Many problems associated with water, air, and soil contaminants can be fixed with new biotechnology.  Modern biotechnology is currently being used in soils for growing better crops, in wastewater for eliminating odors and meeting regulatory requirements, in toxic waste clean-up and many other areas. 

There is a dilemma with biotechnology concerning on-going research.  What takes place on a small scale under controlled laboratory conditions is completely different than what occurs in a large scale "real world" situation.  An example is in cheese manufacturing where thousands of pounds are made at one time with microbes added prior to aging.  It would be very difficult to make a one pound batch with the same characteristics as a large batch because of the transformations caused by the microbes and enzymes.  With new biotechnology, large projects generally outperform smaller test projects.

Agriculture is the big winner as modern biotechnology progresses. Past attempts for the long term control of nematode and phylloxera in vineyards with strong chemicals have had limited success.  However, safe methods, using biotechnology, can supply special nutrients for the beneficial microbes in the soil.  Several microbial strains, including actinomycetes, which are typically native in the soil, produce enzymes that open the skin of the damaging nematode or phylloxera, diminishing their population.  The soil comes alive with beneficial creatures that can naturally control pest and disease problems.  In addition, the trillions of beneficial microbes work to adjust pH, make nutrients more available, improve plant health and increase crop quality and yields.

Historically, industry has had difficulty dealing with wastewater problems.  Sewage treatment plants around the world have included the use of native microbes that exist in their conventional treatment systems.  By using biotechnology, the treatment process can be optimized with the proper strains of selected microbes.  These microbes are more efficient at eating the waste, which causes high Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) in the water.  Special nutrients enable the microbes to reproduce and thrive in the system.  The treatment plant becomes more efficient without incurring the major expense of building larger facilities.  The waste is more completely broken down for safer discharge, the BOD is decreased, and the corresponding odors are significantly reduced or eliminated. 

Dairy and hog operations that discharge wastewater into ponds or fields are also able to benefit from new biotechnology by lowering the nitrate concentration of their waste stream as well as eliminating odors associated with the waste.  For instance, dairy wastewater is loaded with sanitizers and disinfectants that keep our milk supply safe for drinking.  While these products help ensure the safety of our milk, they cause problems for the useful microbes in the wastewater.  By treating the wastewater with the proper strains of microbes and nutrients, the sanitizers, disinfectants, and manure are broken down prior to field application.  As a result, the crops benefit from a more productive soil.  Food processing companies can also handle many of their environmental waste problems by using modern biotechnology. 

The world faces many environmental challenges that can be effectively resolved using biotechnology.  The focus on handling these challenges should be to treat the waste on-site and avoid transferring the problem to a landfill or municipal sewer system. Modern biotechnology can meet these challenges.  This safe method of resolving complex problems is rapidly emerging as the most cost effective solution available.

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