Introduction to Biotechnology

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12525

Have you heard about gene splicing? That does not mean your mom sewing a patch on your blue jeans. It is the use of technology to alter the way an organism grows, usually to make it better or safer!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Do you have a printer with your computer? Can you print out a heart? Not just a picture, but a three-dimensional artificial heart?

Biology is defined as "the study of life."

By observing the world around you, you become aware of a great diversity of living things. Biotechnology is the use of technological tools to modify, improve, and analyze living organisms. While it sounds a bit complicated, it is a practice that goes back to the agricultural revolution and early human history. Biotechnology was first used to domesticate plants and animals for easy access to agricultural crops like wheat and rice.


During this period of time, farmers bred plants that yielded larger corn kernels and sweeter apples instead of those that did not. This selective breeding was the first use of biotechnology. Animals were also bred for favorable characteristics such as obedience, ability to be herded, and having a docile nature.

Penicillin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. The compound needed to be isolated from the mold Penicillium. Biotechnology provided the process for the extraction and development needed to create this useful medicine!


Modern biotechnology uses a lot more resources to actually modify or change the genetic make-up of living organisms. In 1928, Frederick Griffith discovered that genetic sequences could be moved from one bacteria to another.

Watch this short video on transformation, and as you watch, consider the following:

    1. How did Griffith set up his experiment?
    2. How did Griffith know that the bacterial genetic material had changed?

Watch this Griffith Transformation 88sec clip to answer these questions:

Image - Video


  • What impact do you think Griffith's discovery had on the field of biotechnology?

It changed the way we think of genetic material in living organisms! It meant we could actually manipulate the genes of corn to be pest-resistant and create apples that taste like grapes!

Have you seen this product in your grocery store? It was created by modifying the genetic sequence of the apple.


Image by Qrc2006, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

  • So, how do scientists modify the genetic sequence of an organism?

They use a method called, "gene splicing," where genes are cut from one organism and inserted into another organism.

Gene splicing starts by identifying the gene of interest in the organism.

gene splicing

These genes can be inserted into bacterial plasmids. Bacteria have two types of DNA: plasmid DNA and chromosomal DNA.

  • Plasmid DNA is circular DNA that is easily modified and replicates with the cell, allowing the new genetic information to be passed to future generations.
  • Chromosomal DNA has more of a structure that prevents easily splicing genetic material. 

structure of a bacteria cell

Restriction enzymes act as scissors to cut the DNA in both bacterial plasmids and the original organism's DNA so genes can be removed or inserted. These proteins act like scissors, cutting the genetic sequence in specific places. Observe this Restriction enzyme image from Genome Research Limited on flickr.

In the Got It? section, you will review how gene splicing works in biotechnology.

  • What have you learned about how biotechnology has changed over time?
  • Why do you think we use biotechnology today?

Discuss your answers with a parent or teacher before moving on to the Got It? section.

Image - Button Next