The term ‘biotechnology’ (or biotechnologies) encompasses a broad range of technologies used for the characterization, conservation and utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. For example, molecular markers have been used in a variety of ways to characterize genetic resources, to identify priority genetic resources for conservation as well as to effectively manage ex-situ collections; in-vitro technologies can complement conventional conservation methods; tissue culture provides the means to overcome reproductive barriers; development of vaccines using biotechnologies and the use of DNA-based diagnostics can reduce economic losses due to debilitating diseases; and advances in genomics (the study of all the genetic material of an organism) and other “omics” are playing an increasingly significant role in understanding the fundamental elements of plant and animal biology.

The Commission has a key interest in technical and policy developments regarding biotechnologies as they relate to genetic resources for food and agriculture. FAO undertook an overview survey of biotechnology issues and trends for the Commission in order to identify those relevant to FAO and the Commission, and to determine what remains to be done in terms of policy and technical assistance. Reviews of the application and integration of biotechnologies in the conservation and utilization of genetic resources have been milestones of the Commission’s Multi-Year Programme of Work.