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Biotechnology B3 Topic 1 Biology Extension GCSE – Everything YOU need to know

This article will cover everything you need to know for the extension topic Biotechnology in Biology GCSE. This topic involves a lot of content and remembering which also makes this topic slightly boring. This article will go over the commercial production of soya sauce, drug development, use of biotechnology in food, importance of a healthy diet and how obesity can lead to a number of health problems, how biotechnology can solve problem of world food shortages, plant modification (GM plants), issues involving reproduction including choosing sex of babies, pharmaceuticals and the production of insulin through genetic engineering. Yes, it’s a lot to take in and will be a lot to read which is why I advice you skip to the sections of the article that are most relevant to you.

So, What is Biotechnology?
Biotechnology is technology that uses biological materials e.g. enzymes, in an industrial context. It is also used to describe the range of genetic engineering techniques in use today.
One of the use of biotechnology is in the production of food and drink. Humans have been using bacteria and fungi to make food products for them for thousands of years so in fact, we have been using biotechnology for longer than we think!

Production of Soya Sauce
The production of soya sauce involves a lot to remember and is a question likely to come up on the biology exam which is why it’s crucial you know exactly how soya sauce is made (the bits in bold are the important bits you need to remember most):

  • Soya beans are soaked in water, boiled and filtered while wheat is roasted.
  • Then start a culture of moulds and bacteria (aspergillus oryzae (soyae)).
  • Ferment that for about a week at 28-30 degrees Celsius.
  • Brine solution is added and mashed into large vats.
  • This is then further fermented at 25-33 degrees Celsius for between a few months and a year using Bacillus, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.
  • The yeast, Saccharomyces rouxii produces the alcohol and flavouring. The pH lowers as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (L & P) produces lactic acid.
  • A dark brown liquid soya sauce is filtered off and pasteurised.
  • Place in sterile bottle and you have yourself some soya sauce.

Drug Development

  • Made from ground-up willow bark.
  • Used as a painkiller.


  • Made from the bark of a Pacific Yew tree.
  • Used as a powerful anticancer drug.


  • Made from the extracts of cinchona bark.
  • Used as a treatment of malaria.


  • Comes from Artemsia annau, a plant used for 1000 of years in Chinese tradition.
  • Used as a treatment of malaria and as a possible cure for breast cancer.
  • English call it Chinese wormwood.

A Well-Balanced Diet
It is always important to lead and stick to a healthy balanced diet. Before getting into what a balanced diet should consist of, let’s bullet point the some of the drawbacks and consequences of not having a healthy balanced diet:

  • You look fat – decrease in self-confidence.
  • Increase chance of having heart disease.
  • Increase chance of having diabetes.
  • Higher cholesterol.
  • Higher blood pressure therefore more pressure on heart: has to work harder to move blood around body.
  • Infertility.
  • Respiratory problems.
  • Chaffing.

Now, to help with a healthy balanced diet, Prebiotics are used. These are non-digestible food ingredients which increase the growth and activity of bacteria in the gut. Examples of this include Activia and Yakult which includes the prebiotic oligosaccharide which is a carbohydrate..

Now, here’s what a balance diet should include (top to bottom):

  • Salt – This is small as you don’t need to much of it in a balanced diet.
  • Fat – This could be from products such as butter or oil.
  • Protein – Helps with growing and bone density, this could be from meat to fish and dairy. Vegetarians get their protein mainly from beans.
  • Carbohydrates – The source of energy in the diet which is from pasta, rice and veg (remembering a healthy diet includes having 5 veg a day).

As well as the above, there are other parts needed in a healthy diet such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. Remembering our human bodies don’t produce vitamin C by ourselves, we have to eat food and drink liquids with vitamin C such as anything orange really as the orange tint is caused by vitamin C (e.g. oranges, satsumas etc..)

Cholesterol Lowering Spreads

  • These products contain plant sterols or plant stanol ester.
  • The ingredients are found in grains such as wheat, rye and maize.
  • They stop some absorption of cholesterol in the gut.
  • You have to eat healthy food too to lower cholesterol and not just use cholesterol lowering spreads.
  • They have the same structure as cholesterol.
  • Found in yoghurt and spreads.

This is known as a functional food as obviously, the food has a function to carry out.

World Food Shortages
The shortage of food is a global problem. You may not think it as we are lucky to have enough food but there are many many countries which still get the bare minimum of food to survive on in some cases nothing at all. To solve this problem we could do either two things: maximise food production of introduce biotechnology to the production of food globally.

Biotechnology will solve the problem of world food shortages:

  • People cannot afford to buy food, the problem isn’t lack of food (should tackle poverty first).
  • GM (genetically modified) products can be used to make profit (i.e. high yield = larger profit margins, not more available and cheaper foods).
  • Countries may become more dependent on GM crops..

GM plants can be genetically engineered to be resistant to:

  • Pesticides and Herbicides – so fields can be sprayed with them so there is less competition as all the weeds will die leaving just the GM plants. Use Agrobacterium tumefaciens as a vector to transfer genes coding for herbicide and pesticide resistance to the genome of a plant cell.
  • Adverse Weather Conditions – Giving plants genes which contain the ability to allow the plant to grow in any conditions. This is beneficial to 3rd world countries as they will be able to grow food all year round. An example of this is golden rice that was GM to contain vitamin A to stop people going blind.
  • Insects – this can be obtained through the use of the toxin produces by Bacillus theringiensis and inserting it into plants.
  • And can also be engineered to combat certain deficiency diseases by adding genes which contain vitamins, minerals and higher crop yields.

However, some people think genetic modification of plants is NOT ethically right:

  • Religion – tempering with God’s creation.
  • Cross Pollination – genes from GM crops could mix into weeds making them adopt same characteristics as GM plants.
  • Biodiversity – If these plants are over others, biodiversity will decrease.

Maximise Food Production
We can maximise the production of food in many different ways:

  • Use Greenhouses – This provide plants with lots of light, warmth (these two factors will increase photosynthesis therefore increase growth), water and protection against disease and pests. 
  • Fish Farms – Fish are kept in a small area so they can’t swim as far and so use less energy moving and more energy for growing. This provides protection from predators for the fish and enables selective/controlled breeding and the ability to control the food given to the fish with a specialised diet to enhance growth. However, as the fish are close, they are more likely to pass on lice.

Should Countries like us give Food to Countries with Food Shortages? Yes / No

  • Giving food will only last as long as the food does. Training people to grow, catch and make food lasts a lifetime.
  • Stop poverty and improve standard of life.
  • Stop the food being wasted.
  • Will it actually get to the people that need it? Political problems.
  • As soon as food runs out, we are back where we started.
  • Should they help themselves?
  • Transportation a problem, especially in war zones.
  • How do we know what countries need the food?
  • Short-term fix improving relations.

How Stem cells and can Parkinson’s Disease
Stem cells are cells that haven’t been differentiated into any cell so has no specific job yet. They are special as they can be differentiated into any type of cell and don’t have a hay flick limit due to the telomere’s being replaced by telomerase at the end of the DNA strands. Parkinson’s disease us an illness which the central nervous system shuts down and usually results in death. There is no treatment to Parkinson’s disease but scientists are trying to use stem cells to build a new set of neurones to the individual effected with Parkinson’s . By doing this will cure Parkinson’s disease.

Choosing the sex of a baby
Scientists have now got the knowledge and equipment to let the people choose the sex of their babies before they are even born. This can be done in two ways:

IVF (In vitro fertilization)
This is where eggs are fertilised by sperm outside the womb and the embryo with the desired qualities will be placed back in the womb while the other embryos are killed.

IVF is ethically right because:

  • It could stop inherited diseases such as cystic-fibrosis.
  • Allows a women who couldn’t conceive naturally to have a baby.
  • Allows parents to screen embryos in order to choose characteristics (ie.e to stop the inheritance of a male-born condition).

IVF is not ethically right because:

  • It is simply not natural.
  • It throws away unused embryos (potential to have life) which is morally wrong.
  • IVF increases the chance of multiple pregnancies which can potentially be dangerous to mother’s health. Also has financial problems.
  • Surrogate mother may want to keep child.
  • Child could struggle emotionally because they will have 2 mothers.

Finding the Correct Sperm
Another way to sex select is by through sorting sperm cells into two categories: those that include the male chromosome and those carrying the female chromosome. This method is more ethically right as sexual reproduction naturally wastes million of millions of sperms anyway. However, it doesn’t guarantee the baby will be health as the female egg may have genes wrong with it.

However, with both methods, they are not legally allowed. This is because sex selection can skew the balance of gender in future populations. At the moment mother nature is giving a 50% chance of having a boy and a 50% of having a girl (actually for every 1,050 boys born, 1,000 girls are born so odds slightly favour boys). If people were allowed to choose the sex of their baby, the odds could change to 70% of babies born are boys and only 30% girls or the other way round. This can lead to problems literally everywhere.

Production of Insulin

  1. This is Human DNA.
  2. Identify the Insulin gene.
  3. Cut DNA using restriction enzymes to produce sticky ends.
  4. Cut open plasmid with the same restriction enzyme.
  5. Stick in DNA using enzyme ligase.
  6. Put plasmid into bacteria.
  7. Multiply in a fermenter.
  8. Extract Insulin produced.

Looking at the diagram it’s actually quite easy. Cut insulin, cut plasmid, stick DNA in plasmid, put in bacteria which multiply then extract insulin. Simply!

And that concludes Biology Extension Topic 1: Biotechnology. If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section below.



  1. Anonymous May 15, 2011
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  4. Will Green April 5, 2012
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