Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

Biotechnology for environmental quality: closing the circles

  • Alan T. Bull

This paper examines the impact of biotechnology for enhancing the quality of the environment, and the necessity of encouraging holistic approaches to environmental problem solving. Current actions are considered wanting because they place insufficient attention on the causes of environmental degradation. In this context, a number of issues and research agendas are presented, a consideration of which leads me to opine that urgent priorities for ensuring lasting sustainable development must include the widespread adoption of clean technology and ecosystem restoration. Biotechnology has a particularly decisive role to play in realizing clean processes and clean products, and this role is illustrated with reference to clean technology options in the industrial, agroforestry, food, raw materials, and minerals sectors. A quarter of a century ago Commoner (1971) used the metaphor of a closing circle to draw attention to incompatibilities of modern industrial society and ecological health. The second part of this paper argues that, as biotechnology has matured, a circle of synergistic flows of materials, services and ideas has been established between it and biodiversity and suggests a more optimistic scenario to that portrayed by Commoner. The closing of the biotechnology-biodiversity circle is manifest in the following terms: search and discovery; detection, circumscription and phylogeny; ecosystem function and restoration; industrial ecology; and the gearing provided by molecular biology. Finally, the North-South biotechnology-biodiversity circle presents critical problems of commercial exploitation and intellectual property rights in relation to the gene pools of the megadiversity but predominantly developing countries of the world.


biotechnology biodiversity environmental degradation pollution clean technology industrial ecology ecosystem restoration 


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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan T. Bull
    • 1
  1. 1.Research School of BiosciencesUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

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