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How Old Is Biotechnology?

The word "biotechnology" can be traced to 1917, when it was used to refer to a large-scale production of materials from microbes grown in vats. But the roots of the technology are as familiar and as ancient as baking yeast breads - traceable back 6,000 years.

4000 BC Classical biotechnology: Dairy farming develops in the Middle East; Egyptians use yeasts to bake leavened bread and to make wine.

3000 BC Peruvians select and cultivate potatoes.

2000 BC Egyptians, Sumerians and Chinese develop techniques of fermentation, brewing and cheese-making.

500 BC Mediterraneans develop marinating and Europeans develop salting, which leads to curing and pickling to flavor and preserve food.

1500 AD Acidic cooking techniques lead to sauerkraut and yogurt - two examples of using beneficial bacteria to flavor and preserve food. Aztecs make cakes from Spirulina algae.

1859 "On the Origin of Species" - English naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution - is published in London.

1861 French chemist Louis Pasteur develops pasteurization - preserving food by heating it to destroy harmful microbes.

1865 Austrian botanist and monk Gregor Mendel describes his experiments in heredity, founding the field of genetics.

1879 William James Beal develops the first experimental hybrid corn.

1910 American biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan discovers that genes are located on chromosomes.

1928 F. Griffith discovers genetic transformation - genes can transfer from one strain of bacteria to another.

1941 Danish microbiologist A. Jost coins the term "genetic engineering" in a lecture on sexual reproduction in yeast.

1943 Oswald Avery, Colin MacLead and Maclyn McCarty use bacteria to show that DNA carries the cell's genetic information.

1953 James Watson and Francis Crick describe the double helix of DNA, using x-ray diffraction patterns of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.

Early 1970's Paul Berg, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer develop ways to cut and splice DNA, introducing recombinant DNA techniques.

1975 Scientists organize the Asilomar conference to discuss regulating recombinant DNA experiments. George Kohler and Cesar Milstein show that fusing cells can generate monoclonal antibodies.

1982 First genetically engineered product - human insulin produced by Eli Lilly & Company using E. coli bacteria - is approved for use by diabetics.

1984 Kary Mullis develops polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to mass-produce specific DNA fragments.

1986 First release into the environment of a genetically engineered plant (a tobacco).

1987. First release of genetically engineered microbes in field experiments.

1990 Pfizer Inc., introduces Chymax chymosin, and enzyme used in cheese-making - first product of recombinant DNA technology in the U.S. food supply.

1993 After nearly 10 years of scientific review and political controversy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves Monstanto Co.'s version of rBGH/rBST to increase milk production.

1994 Calgene, Inc., market the FLAVRSAVR tomato - first genetically engineered whole food in the U.S. food supply.

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