Biotechnology is “the integration of natural sciences and engineering in order to achieve the application of organisms, cells, parts thereof and molecular analogues for products and services” (EFB General Assembly, 1989). Environmental biotechnology as discussed in this briefing paper is the application of these processes for the protection and restoration of the quality of our environment.
Biotechnological processes to protect the environment have been used for almost a century now, even longer than the term ‘biotechnology’ exists. Municipal sewage treatment plants and filters to purify town gas were developed around the turn of the century. They proved very effective although at the time, little was known about the biological principles underlying their function. Since that time our knowledge base has increased enormously. This briefing paper describes the state-of-the-art and possibilities of environmental biotechnology. It also deals with the societal aspects of environmental biotechnology.
Biotechnological techniques to treat waste before or after it has been brought into the environment are described and exemplified in the section on bioremediation. Biotechnology can also be used to develop products and processes that generate less waste and use less non-renewable resources and energy. In this respect biotechnology is well positioned to contribute to the development of a more sustainable society, a principle which was Recombinant DNA technology has improved the possibilities for the prevention of pollution and holds a promise for a further development of bioremediation.