Chapter 12. Commercial Biotechnology: Developing World Prospects

  1. Prof. Dr. H.-J. Rehm3 and
  2. Dr. G. Reed4
  1. George T. Tzotzos1 and
  2. Marion Leopold2

Published Online: 7 MAY 2008

DOI: 10.1002/9783527620999.ch12o

Biotechnology Set, Second Edition

Biotechnology Set, Second Edition

How to Cite

Tzotzos, G. T. and Leopold, M. (2001) Commercial Biotechnology: Developing World Prospects, in Biotechnology Set, Second Edition (eds H.-J. Rehm and G. Reed), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH, Weinheim, Germany. doi: 10.1002/9783527620999.ch12o

Editor Information

  1. 3

    Institut für Mikrobiologie, Universität Münster, Corrensstraße 3, D-4400 Münster

  2. 4

    2131 N. Summit Ave., Apartment #304, Milwaukee, WI 53202-1347, USA

Author Information

  1. 1

    Vienna, Austria

  2. 2

    Montreal, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 7 MAY 2008
  2. Published Print: 10 MAY 2001

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9783527257621

Online ISBN: 9783527620999



  • technological scene;
  • socioeconomic development;
  • biotechnology;
  • molecular biology;
  • economic interaction


The evolution of biotechnology from the centuries old brewing and breeding practices to the engineering based fermentation technologies of the 1950s and finally to the recombinant technologies of today, represents a quantum shift in qualitative terms. Biotechnology being sector-specific until recently became, in a remarkably short time, an all-pervasive technology. It evolved from being empirical in nature, to technology/manufacturing-based, to. finally, science-intensive. The range of its potential applications expands continuously with scientific knowledge and encompasses all sectors of economic activity.

The changing technological scene influences, inevitably, the public image of biotechnology (KENNEDY, 1991; BUD, 1989; FLEISING, 1989). Early day fermentation biotechnology was perceived to offer unimaginable possibilities for sustainable techno-economic development. For the developing world this meant the utilization of excess biomass to provide food and energy for ever increasing populations. Single cell protein and continuous fermentation technologies were promoted in international for a as magic bullets for socioeconomic development. Biotechnology, thus, received an idealistic image. This image was not to last long. It died with the failure of single cell protein to become a viable commercial product.

The advent of molecular biology in the mid 1970s and its translation into what came to be known as “new” biotechnology (henceforth referred to simply as biotechnology) demanded venture capital that could only be raised if its commercial potential were sufficiently attractive. The prevailing image of biotechnology is now that of an all-pervasive, profit-generating technology playing a strategic role in maintaining and enhancing national competitiveness in an environment of global economic interaction.

This chapter considers the extent to which the disjunction of priorities between the industrial and developing world (i.e., corporate profit generation vs. social benefit) influences the potential of biotechnology to solve health and food supply related problems in the developing world. At the same time, it examines whether aspirations for technological “leapfrogging” through biotechnology stand on firm ground.

The focus is on the major factors that influence the transition of science into technology and commerce and on assessing the impact of transferring biotechnology to the developing world. The scientific background of the sector-specific applications of advanced biotechnology has been consciously underplayed, as there already exists a vast volume of relevant literature. Technological innovations that have revolutionized practice at the scientific bench also receive little attention, as the emphasis is on what turns bioscience into an economic activity rather than on the scientific ingredients of the technology. Access to the tools of the technology does not necessarily mean ability to master the “trade”.

A major problem in addressing the subject matter is the huge diversity at the country and regional level in terms of human and material resources, as well as in terms of socioeconomic systems. Such variation implies different sets of technological priorities. To overcome this problem the common denominator approach has been followed. That is the need of almost all developing countries to alleviate disease and secure food supply. The focus being on the technology rather than the science and the fact that the first commercial results of advanced biotechnology come from the health and agricultural areas have facilitated the task of writing this chapter.

Health and agricultural biotechnology are, therefore, treated as cases in point to demonstrate the technological entry barriers, technology transfer and potential socioeconomic impacts. While recognizing the fact that other biotechnological applications (e.g., environmental, industrial) may be appropriate for the developing world, the thematic focus of the volume at hand does not justify anything other than paying lip service to them.