Lessons in Innovation and Commercialization from the Biotechnology Revolution

Gerald Gallwas

"We shape our tools and forever after, they shape us." Marshall McLuhan

Chemistry in many forms is a major force shaping the modern world. It is the fundamental science of materials, providing everything from the tools we use to the medicines we take. Silicon and germanium enabled integrated circuits, hydrogen and oxygen propelled us into space, and recombinant DNA brought new drugs and pest-resistant crops.

Yet for all these benefits, chemistry is both a misunderstood, and in many ways an unappreciated, science. Rather than praise its benefits, our attention is repeatedly focused on chemistry's perils, such as its potential to pollute. Nevertheless, we have at our disposal a great abundance of chemical technology that is changing our lives without our even knowing it. An ancient Chinese proverb reminds us that "only a fool would predict the future." As we contemplate that future, the wiser question to ask is, what did we learn from chemistry in the twentieth century? The story of biotechnology offers many contemporary lessons, especially in innovation and the commercialization of new technologies.

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