What are Biotechnology Companies?

Biotechnology Companies are firms that are involved in what one United Nations committee defined as, “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”


Contrary to popular belief, biotechnology has been around for thousands of years; the domestication of animals and the production of beer and wine are all biotechnological activities. Modern usage of the term began to flourish In the 1980s when the bacterium E. Coli was genetically modified to break down oil for use in the cleaning up of oil spills. The Human Genome Project, which was planned in 1986 to map out the DNA of humans and began operation in 1990, further popularized the term.

Biotechnology Companies and Agriculture

Agricultural applications for biotechnology take many forms but the primary focus has been the modification of food crops to grow in regions of the world where conditions are unfavorable. Monsanto has been the leader in this endeavor; modifying corn and soybeans to become drought and pest resistant and produce more vegetable oil. Devgen is another leader in this field and has concentrated their efforts in improving rice, millet, and sorghum crops in the Far East.

Biotechnology Companies and Industrial Applications

White biotechnology or industrial biotechnology predominantly seeks to replace fossil fuels and petroleum as a source for energy and materials. Archer Daniels Midland has been aggressively marketing and improving a Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) plastic made from bacteria and corn syrup. Coskata has emerged as one of the leading producers of ethanol made from sugar cane waste and BioSelect Fuels is taking a significant role in the production of biodiesel fuels.

Biotechnology Companies and Medicine

Most people who hear the term ‘biotechnology’ envision medical research as the primary application of the science. Indeed, the larger companies in the field are medical and/or pharmaceutical firms. Amgen, Genentech, and Genzyme are the top companies in this field. Some of Amgen’s products are used to fight cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Genentech has achieved success with human growth hormone produced through recombinant DNA, and Genzyme with an engineered thyroid stimulating hormone.

Biotechnology Companies and Genetic Testing

Nearly every biotech company does genetic testing to either produce a product or to find out where a product needs to be developed. Others have made the testing their product; that is, they sell and or perform the testing to help diagnose disease or predict a disposition to it. Companies like Navigenix, and Illumina both do testing to help customize drug therapies for patients. Others, like 23andMe and Genedx perform testing for diagnostic purposes; with 23andMe, the consumer may contact and use them directly.

This article has primarily focused on private corporations that are engaged in for profit operations. Many of the same research and development goes on at nonprofit and government facilities across the globe. The aging of the baby boomer generation and the looming shortage of food crops and energy arising from a booming population mean that biotechnology companies will continue to grow and prosper.