When President George W. Bush scolded Europe last June for resisting genetically modified crops, he was acting out his part in what has become one of the most boring controversies in biotechnology. The U.S. always plays rah-rah cheerleader to Europe's pouty benchwarmer. Much of the public on both sides of the Atlantic continues to reject transgenic food despite science and industry arguments about its benefits. Findings that point to risks from transgenic organisms are waved away as manageable by biotech's advocates; findings that reinforce biotech's safety never surmount the precautionary principle (do nothing new until its safety is perfectly assured). The story hasn't progressed in years.
What a relief, then, to consider an often overlooked segment of biotech that has so far escaped the fracas. Industrial biotechnology applies the life sciences to manufacturing--for instance, by using cells to synthesize materials or by substituting enzymes for caustic reagents.
This article was originally published with the title Biotech's Clean Slate.