By Erika Mills
For some, the word “biotechnology” conjures images like super crops and cloned sheep—things created in a laboratory by manipulating DNA. While many equate biotechnology with genetic engineering and contemporary advancements in science, the practice of using organisms and biological processes as tools to make products like foods and medicines—biotechnology at its core—is an ancient one. Yeast has fueled the beer and wine industries for millennia, while scientists, in partnership with business, have worked to develop techniques that use microbes to prevent and cure illnesses over the last two centuries. From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry, a new traveling exhibition, special display, and online exhibition, explores some of the processes, problems, and potentials inherent in technologies that use life.
Curated by Diane Wendt and Mallory Warner from the National Museum of American History, From DNA to Beer presents four case studies: the recent use of recombinant DNA in drug production; the “miracle” of penicillin and consequences of its access and overuse; the relationship of microbes, mammals, and people inherent in serum therapy; and the work of Pasteur and his relationship to the brewing and wine-making industry. The special display, available in the History of Medicine Division Reading Room, includes a selection of artifacts from the collections of the National Museum of American History and the National Library of Medicine that illuminate relationships between science, industry, and the public in historical context.
The companion website allows remote visitors to explore the artifacts along with additional texts and documents to gain a better understanding of the historical period during which these products were created and distributed. From DNA to Beer online features the Digital Gallery, an assortment of digitized, historical books and images on topics covered in the exhibition, from the National Library of Medicine’s Digital Collections and Images from the History of Medicine sites. Check out the “Learn More” section to view short, animated vignettes on recombinant DNA, beer fermentation, and diphtheria antitoxin. Here are some highlights from the exhibition:
Come explore From DNA to Beer online for yourself at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/fromdnatobeer/index.html. To book the traveling exhibition or see when it comes to your town, visit the traveling exhibition page at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/about/exhibition/fromdnatobeer-bookinfo.html. Read more posts about From DNA to Beer here.