Biotechnology is not just used in laboratories to modify genes. We all use biotechnology in our everyday lives – from lipstick to laundry to lunch!

Some people think that biotechnology is about genetic modification or cloning and are surprised to learn of the full scope of this field and its applications. Biotechnology is used in our homes everyday and our lives would be quite different without it.

Doing the laundry

Even such everyday tasks as doing your laundry use biotechnology. Most washing powders are made of a combination of inorganic and biological materials. The biological material contains an active molecule called an enzyme, which can breakdown stains. This means that stains like blood, egg and gravy can be washed out of the clothes. Without enzymes, it would be much harder to remove these stains.

For further information, see the article: Enzymes in washing powders, which also includes a range of activities for the classroom.

Fruits also yield a number of useful enzymes that can be utilised around the home, the article Fruit enzyme uses, has more information.

Looking good

Would you rub fish juice on your face to ward off wrinkles or keep your skin clear of zits? The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA) have some news you might be interested in – they are developing uses for fish wastes as cosmetics.

Find out more with the students from Cobden Primary School in this video conference: Fish into face cream.

Karen Farley has used her knowledge of natural products and ingredients to develop her own natural skincare range in New Zealand, find out more about Karen Farley’s cosmetics in these videos of students interviewing her.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

All the foods we eat come from living things. Biotechnology is used in a variety of ways to improve food and drink. Biotechnology is at work when we marinate meats to soften them, make bread, process milk into cheese or yoghurt or make fermented drinks like beer and wine.

For further information, see these articles, The chemistry of croissants and Fruit enzymes tenderise meat.

If you like to wash your meal down with a glass of ginger beer, wine or beer, then you are drinking a biotech product. Find out more about making ginger beer from traditional recipes on the Hub and use this unit plan to get your class to test some recipes.

Painting and decorating

Buildings, boats and cars are all covered with paint – paint which, with the help of biotechnology, can now have purposes other than just looking good. Imagine industrial structures covered in photosynthetic paint, windows that wash themselves or boats that clean themselves…

The video conference, Algae into paint – what is NIWA up to? has more information.

Published 23 October 2007