Hawaii Conference Highlights Another Consumer Benefit of Biotechnology

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 9, 2006) -- The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is hosting the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Jan. 11-13, 2006 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa in Honolulu to explore the third wave in biotechnology – industrial and environmental biotechnology, which is the use of life science technologies to improve manufacturing processes. “Biotechnology is creating a new industrial revolution based on biology instead of petroleum. As biotech processes replace old rust belt technologies, they are enabling a transformation from a petroleum-based economy to a biobased economy,” states Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section.

Industrial enzymes are already being used to make a number of consumer products better. Most detergents contain enzymes that help remove food and grass stains and get our clothes cleaner, even when cold wash water is used. Contact lens cleaners utilize biotech enzymes to remove tough protein deposits from lenses. Enzymes can be used to bleach paper products replacing the use of toxic chlorine. There are enzymes used to keep bread from going stale and to make the high fructose sweeteners in our juice and soft drinks.

Biotech can also be used to make ethanol for our cars and plastics for consumer products out of agriculture waste products instead of crude oil. The United States currently makes about 4 billion gallons of ethanol a year from grain, primarily corn. New biotechnology processes are now available that could produce over 70 billion gallons of ethanol a year from cellulose-containing crop residues, such as corn stover and stalks, sugar cane bagasse, wheat straw and rice straw. Biotech-improved enzymes convert the cellulose to sugars that can be fermented into ethanol.

Biotech enzymes are also being used to transform the chemical industry. Enzyme biocatalysts are used as substitutes for chemicals in many manufacturing processes, reducing process costs, the amount of energy used to make products, and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. “When companies change a process from a chemical synthesis process to a biotechnology process and use enzymes, they actually prevent pollution from being generated because toxic chemicals are no longer required to make a product,” said Erickson.

All living systems, including microorganisms, produce enzymes that act as biocatalysts to perform a myriad of chemical functions in living cells. Industrial biotechnology involves working with nature to optimize existing biochemical systems- that can replace traditional chemical processes in manufacturing. Scientists use biotech techniques to research microorganisms – ranging from bacteria, yeasts, and fungi to marine diatoms and protozoa – to identify and produce enzymes for manufacturing, environmental cleanup, and other industrial applications.

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.