Man has been employing living organisms knowingly or unknowingly from pre-historic times for the
production of various things like alcoholic beverages, curds, cheese etc. There are evidences to show that
Sumerians and Babylonians used to produce various types of wines and beers. In India, there is the
description about ‘somarasa’, an intoxicating juice, probably a fermented juice, from a plant named
‘Soma’ in Vedic texts. The ancient Indian system of medicine Ayurveda used the self-generated alcohol
as the medium in the medicines. From these it is very evident that the use of biotechnology is not a
recent phenomenon but a very old technology, as old as human race.
The term ‘biotechnology’ was used before the 20th century for traditional activities like making
dairy products cheese and curd, bread, wine, beer etc. But none of these could be considered biotechnology
in the modern sense. Genetic alteration of organisms through selective breeding, plant cloning by grafting
etc. do not come under biotechnology. The process of fermentation for the preparation and manufacture
of products like alcohol, beer, wine, dairy products, various types of organic acids like vinegar, citric
acid, amino acids and vitamins can be termed as the classical biotechnology or the traditional
biotechnology. Fermentation is the process by which living organisms like yeast or bacteria are employed
to produce useful compounds or products.