The Gene Factory

Heralded as both promise and doom, biotechnology has attracted widespread interest in the 1980’s. Broadly defined as the application of biological organisms or processes in industry, the field includes a wide variety of products and processes.

Industries involved range from the medical and pharmaceutical to the food and agricultural industries, and this book gives an overview of all, including bio-utilities in other industries as well--chemical, energy, mining, and pollution-control. Actual and proposed applications range from the readily imaginable--supervaccines and bioengineered plant seeds--to the less easily imaginable--self-shearing sheep and “biochips” instead of silicon-based ones.

Certainly, bioproducts invite a sense of marvel, but, recognizing the “painful irony that, in seeking to extend our control over our world, we often unwittingly lessen it,” the author also discusses the dark side of biotechnology--bioweaponry and the threat of human beings beginning to modify other human beings.

At times, Elkington’s narrative becomes muzzy, but overall the book is a readable account of an emerging technology with great potential for both socially desirable and commercially acceptable products. The author reminds us that “it has never been more important that we should understand the key to life’s vital processes which molecular biology is now handing to us--and the locks which the biotechnology industry proposes to open with them.”