History of Biotechnology


history of biotechnology

Biotechnology is basically the merging of the knowledge obtained in biology with scientific methods and practices in technology. With the utilization of the knowledge of cellular and molecular processes, biotechnology deals with the act of modifying products and crops in order to suit specific applications and engineer them to make them more useful (Organization 2016). Here is the history of biotechnology and its timeline summary.

The probability and possibilities behind this kind of interest towards biotechnology lie behind to its boundless potential and promising approaches to serve and to benefit every aspect of man’s life. Inventions and innovations in this field include food, health, and animal life (Ashish Swarup Verma 2011). Refer to the detailed history of biochemistry here.

History of Biotechnology

Biotechnology History - A Timeline


  • Most of the inventions and developments in these periods are termed as “discoveries” or “developments”. Such inventions were based on common observations about nature, which could be put to test for the betterment of human life at that point in time (Berkeley 2012).
  • During the ancient times, man, in order to meet the basic need for food, explored the possibilities of making food available and accessible by growing them near their shelters.
Domestication of Wild Animals
Source: Wikimedia
  • Around 7000 B.C.E The domestication of wild animals began the observation and applications of animal breeding in the daily life of man. Certainly, this endeavor was the initial period of evolution of farming (Coley 2016).

    This then paved the way to another needs like the development of methods for preserving food and its storage.

    Man made new observations and invented food products like cheese and curd. In history, the invention of cheese can be considered as one of the first direct products of biotechnology.

    The exploitation of yeast in various products like making bread, producing vinegar, and fermenting products was done largely for human benefit. The discovery of yeast also paved the way for the production of alcoholic beverages like wine, whiskey and beer.


  • This period in history is referred to as the phase of “Classical Biotechnology“. During this period various observations and scientific evidences started coming in. This phase in history extended up to the mid-20th century (Ashish Swarup Verma 2011).


  • Gregor Mendel Monk1859    A monk named Gregor Mendel performed experiments on the inheritance among pea plants. Because of his contributions, Gregor Mendel became the “Father of Genetics” (Bagley 2013).
Mendel Experiments
Mendel Experiments
  • 1865 The results of Mendel’s experiments in 1865 showed that parents must pass unique physical factors which serves as the code of information to their offspring at conception. The offspring then gets one unit for each trait from each of his/her parents.

Theory of Inheritance
Theory of Inheritance
  • 1866    After a year, Mendel proposed the Theory of Inheritance  with three different principles: dominant expression, recessive expression, and independent assortment of traits. He also discovered that traits appear in twos; separate independently in the sex cells; combine again in pairs in the offspring (kenyon.edu 2016). However, some time after their release, Mendel’s works were lost.

  • Friedrich Miescher1869 Friedrich Miescher first recognized the “nuclein” inside the nuclei of human leukocytes (white blood cells) (Coley 2016).
  • Ernst Haeckel1871 Ernst Haeckel suggested that the genetic material can be found in the nucleus. Later, his experiments proved this claim to be true.

    Chromosomes as units that carry the genetic information were discovered.

    Joseph ListerIn the same year, Joseph Lister experimented with Penicillium glaucium and its antibacterial action on human tissue (Ashish Swarup Verma 2011). Refer to the book on Penicillium glaucium here.


  • Early 20th Century During this time, Mendel’s principles were found again after being lost for a long time.

    Charles DarwinMendel’s work were ignored for such a long time because at the same time, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was so consuming that it out-shined the significance of Mendel’s work (Berkeley 2012).

  • Karl Ereky1919    Scientist Karl Ereky have foreseen a time when biology could be used for turning raw materials into useful products. He later coined the term biotechnology to describe that integration of biology with technology.
  • Alexander Fleming1921    Alexander Fleming defined new horizons for modern antibiotics with his discoveries of enzyme lysozyme (Coley 2016).
  • 1928    Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, an antibiotic substance.
  • 1940s   The Second World War became a major hindrance to the emergence of scientific discoveries. After the end of the war, some very crucial discoveries were reported. Such paved the path for modern biotechnology and to its current status.
  • James Watson and Francis Crick1953    Utilizing all discoveries prior to the, James Watson and Francis Crick were able to obtain the double helical and 3D model of the DNA (Pray 2009). DNA replication process was also discovered.
  • Frederick Sanger1977    The process of sequencing was first done by scientist Frederick Sanger and the first ever organism to have its genome sequenced is a bacteriophage.
  • Kary Mullis1983    Kary Mullis invented the Polymerase Chain Reaction. This technique is used to amplify a single copy of a segment of a DNA hence making millions of copies in just a short time (Utah.edu 2016).
  • Human Genome Project1996    A sheep named Dolly was successfully cloned.An international research effort called the Human Genome Project was started. The goal of this project is to sequence and map the genome of man. It was completed in 2003 and interestingly, the results showed the complete genetic blue print for building a human being (USA.gov 2015).
  • At present, the endeavor of continuing genetic research is fueled by the desire of man to develop medical practices that can alleviate the suffering associated with human diseases. A lot of questions on different biological phenomena still remain unanswered so quests still continue.


  • Ashish Swarup Verma, Shishir Agrahari, Shruti Rastogi, and Anchal Singh. “Biotechnology in the Realm of History.” Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences, 2011: 321–323.
  • Bagley, M. Genetics: The Study of Heredity. 2013. http://www.livescience.com/27332-genetics.html (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Berkeley. Genetic Variation. 2012. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_17 (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Coley, N. “History of Biochemistry.” History of Biochemistry, 2016: 9.
  • kenyon.edu. History of Genetics. 2016. http://biology.kenyon.edu/courses/biol114/Chap01/history_genetics.html (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Norman, J. Coining the term “Genetics”. 2004). http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=4289 (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Organization, Biotechnology Innovation. History of Biotechnology. 2016. https://www.bio.org/articles/history-biotechnology (accessed July 23, 2016).
  • Pray, L. “Discovery of DNA Structure and Function: Watson and Crick.” Nature Education, 2009: 100-101.
  • Smith, D. Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell. 2016. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/history_12 (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • USA.gov. All About The Human Genome Project (HGP). 2015. https://www.genome.gov/10001772/all-about-the–human-genome-project-hgp/ (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Utah.edu. PCR. 2016. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/labs/pcr/ (accessed July 22, 2016).
Cite this article as: JK, "History of Biotechnology," in Bio Explorer, August 7, 2016, http://www.bioexplorer.net/history_of_biology/biotechnology/.