Biotechnology is the industrial development of commercial products through the modification and extension of biological processes, and their commercial production through bulk processes such as fermentation. The development process may utilize intact organisms (e.g., bacteria or yeast) or natural substances (e.g., enzymes) extracted from such organisms. Biotechnology, as a modern human endeavor, dates to 1972 when scientists at Stanford University recombined fragments of DNA from different organisms, and the era of "genetic engineering" was born.

Recent events in biotechnology, including the HGP's draft of the human genome, have proven dramatic, and the evolution of this technology has occurred rapidly. Some critics hold that changes have come too fast for reflective human assimilation. Proponents counter that biotechnology is not new, that humans have been manipulating genotypes and phenotypes for some 10,000 years, since the time of early plant and animal husbandry, and that only the degree of technical sophistication has changed in recent decades.

Most of these events in the recent history of biotechnology directly impact the treatment and cure of genetic disease; those that do not, such as agricultural biotechnology, utilize methodology that has spun off from the primary medical endeavors. Among the banner events with both short-term (or proximate) and potentially long-term (ultimate) consequences for humanity are stem cell research, whole organism cloning, and human gene therapy.

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