Learn how technology has been used to improve the food we grow or eat. Follow the biotech timeline.
10,000 - 9,000 BC
People start planting crops rather than relying on hunting and gathering for food.
In Mesopotamia, Sumerians use yeast - a type of fungus - to make beer and wine.
Farming communities in existence.
Egyptians use yeast to make bread rise.
4,000 BC - 1,600 AD
Early farmers - like those in Egypt and the Americas - saved seeds from plants that produced the best crops and planted them the next year to grow even better crops.
3,000 - 2,000 BC
Peruvians select potatoes (from around 160 wild species) with the lowest levels of poisons and grow them for food.
1700 - 1720
Thomas Fairchild, the forgotten father of the flower garden, creates Europe’s first hybrid plant.
1750 - 1850
European farmers increase cultivation of legumes (to fix nitrogen in the soil) and rotate crops to increase yield.
Austrian monk Gregor Johann Mendel publishes important work on heredity that describes how plant characteristics are passed from generation to generation.
1870 - 1890
Plant researchers crossbreed cotton to develop hundreds of new varieties with superior traits.
1871 - Early 1900s
Researcher Luther Burbank developed the Russet Burbank Potato, and later went on to develop several new hybrid fruits, including plums, berries, prunbes and peaches.
First U.S. hybrid corn produced through self-pollination.
Word ‘biotechnology’ coined by Hungarian immigrant Karl Ereky.
Impact of X-rays and radium on barley mutation described.
Hybrid corn becomes available commercially in the United States, causing corn yields to triple over the past 50 years.
Discovery that chemicals can cause mutations.
Discovery that DNA is genetic molecule - in other words, it is the way genetic information is passed between generations.
Watson and Crick describe the double helix structure of DNA, providing more insight into how DNA carries genetic information.
Understanding of the structure of genes, and how they work deepens.
Work on creating high yield varieties of major grains, especially wheat, corn, millet, and rice massively increase production of these crops in many countries - launching the Green Revolution. The creation of dwarf wheat increases yields by 70%.
Cohen and Boyer successfully splice a gene from one organism and move it into another, launching the modern biotechnology era.
Boyer’s lab created a synthetic version of the human insulin gene.
The first transgenic plant is produced - a tobacco plant resistant to an antibiotic. The breakthrough paved the way for beneficial traits, such as insect resistance, to be transferred to a plant.
Field trials for biotech plants that are resistant to insects, viruses and bacteria are held in the United States.
Genetic modifications used to make chymosin, an enzyme used in making hard cheese.
Late 1980s/Early 1990s
China first to put GM crops on sale, namely VR tobacco and a tomato.
Transgenic FlavrSavr® tomato is approved for sale in U.S. groceries. It was developed to have more flavor and to have a longer shelf-life than conventionally grown tomatoes.
GM soybeans and corn are approved for sale, and GM cotton is commercialized in the United States. GM crops become the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of agriculture.
GM tomato paste approved in the UK, first GM herbicide tolerant soya beans and insect protected maize approved in the E.U. In total, farmers in six countries plant GM crops on 1.7 million hectares.
German and Swiss scientists develop golden rice, fortified with betacarotene, which stimulates production of Vitamin A that can prevent some forms of blindness.
The first entire plant genome is sequenced, Arabidopsis thaliana, which provides researchers with greater insight into the genes that control specific traits in many other agricultural plants.
U.S. and Canadian scientists develop a transgenic tomato that thrives in salty conditions, a discovery with the potential to create tomatoes and other crops that can grow in marginal conditions.
The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) study found that six GM crops planted in the United States - soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola- produced an additional 4 billion pounds of food and fiber on the same acreage, improved farm income by $1.5 billion and reduced pesticide use by 46 million pounds.
Farmers in 18 countries plant GM crops on 67.7 million hectares.
Farmers in 17 countries plant GM crops on 81.0 million hectares.
Farmers in 21 countries plant GM crops on 90.0 million hectares.