Biotechnology is the use of biological agents for technological advancement. Biotechnology was used for breeding livestock and crops long before people understood the scientific basis of these techniques. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, the biotechnology field has grown rapidly through both academic research and private companies. The primary applications of this technology are in medicine (vaccine and antibiotic production) and agriculture (crop genetic modification in order to increase yields). Biotechnology also has many industrial applications, such as fermentation, treating oil spills, and producing biofuels (Figure).

The left side of this image is an old black and white photo of a mailbox plastered with an advertisement reading “Penicillin cures gonorrhea in four hours. See your doctor today.” The right side of the image shows a petri dish streaked with bacteria. Bacteria grow everywhere on the plate except where discs containing antibiotic have been placed. These areas are completely devoid of bacterial growth
Fungi, bacteria, and other organisms that have antimicrobial properties produce antibiotics. The first antibiotic discovered was penicillin. Pharmaceutical companies now commercially produce and test antibiotics for their potential to inhibit bacterial growth. (credit "advertisement": modification of work by NIH; credit "test plate": modification of work by Don Stalons/CDC; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)