Time and again pundits promise a revolution based on biology will succeed those based on engineering and chemistry. On each occasion, the prophesy is expressed as radical and derived from observing recent developments. Yet, for a hundred years before even the discovery of recombinant DNA fermentation, as this talk will illustrate, technology had been promising and often delivering industrial transformation. By the 1920s the word ‘biotechnology’ was in German dictionaries. Even then it was not just a word it was a concept of the future. The number of papers on the production of organic acids through fermentation was growing exponentially. The outrageous enthusiasm of now-forgotten young people linked this development to the production of Penicillin and the other antibiotics. Their optimism and ambition may have seemed excessive in the 1920s but was surely justified by those later developments. In the 1960s and 1970s such promises seemed to be renewed in an era of single cell protein, gasohol, enzymatic catalysis and continuous fermentation. In an era of newly expensive gasoline, those hopes, in an era so near and yet so far fueled the beginning of the modern era of biotechnology.
Comments are closed.