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Timeline: 8,000 Years of Mankind

6000 B.C. — Ancient writings from around 6000 B.C. indicate the Sumerians and Babylonians knew how to use microbial yeasts to make beer.

4000 B.C. — The Egyptians make leavened bread using yeast.

500 B.C. — The Chinese use filamentous fungi (mold) as an antibiotic to treat boils.

mid-1800’s — Louis Pasteur proposes that fermentation is a result of microbial activity.

1863 — Austrian monk Gregor Mendel discovers hereditary transmission of genetic traits.

1897 — The German scientist Buchner discovers that specialized proteins called enzymes are responsible for converting sugar to alcohol.

1900 — George Washington Carver seeks new industrial uses for agricultural feedstocks such as peanuts.

1941 — Henry Ford unveils his biological car. The car body is made of soybeans, the fuel comes from corn, and the wheels are made of goldenrod.

1953 — Watson and Crick propose structure of DNA.

1973 — Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer perfect techniques to cut and paste DNA (using restriction enzymes and ligases) and reproduce the new DNA in bacteria.

1974 — Research using genetically enhanced microbes for industrial applications begins.

1986 — Microbes are first used to clean up oil spill. (first biotech patent ever issued was for a microbe to clean up oil spills)

1997 — The first industrially relevant Gram-positive microorganism (Bacillus subtilis) genome is sequenced. Also that year, Martek DHA™ and ARA oils, produced from microalgae, were introduced into worldwide markets.

1998 — The first gene chip for transcriptional profiling of an industrial organism is designed.

1999 — President Clinton signs an executive order to promote development of biobased products and bioenergy.

2000 — The largest IPO for industrial biotechnology is completed (Genencor International, Inc.).

2001 —  The world’s first biorefinery opens in Blair, Neb., to convert sugars from field corn into polylactic acid (PLA) -- a composite biopolymer that can be used to produce packaging materials, clothing and bedding products.

2003 — McKinsey & Co. reports industrial biotechnology is one of the fastest growing economic sectors, potentially reaching $160 billion in value by 2010.

2004 — Cellulosic ethanol becomes an economic reality with the first commercial shipment and reductions in enzyme cost.

2005 — Congress passes the Energy Policy Act, which enacts a new renewable fuel standard and authorizes billions for biofuels development.

2005 — The first enzymes for low energy (cold) ethanol production are commercialized. Corn-derived ethanol production hits 4 billion gallons per year.

2006 — President Bush announces a plan to commercialize cellulosic ethanol and make it cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012.

2007 — President Bush proposes goal of producing 35 billion gallons of biofuel by 2017.

2007 — U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announces it will invest up to $385 million on six biorefinery projects over the next four years. The projects selected include: Iogen Biorefinery Partners, LLC, BlueFire Ethanol, Inc., Range Fuels, POET (Broin Companies), ALICO, Inc., and Abengoa Bioenergy.

2007 — DOE announces that it will invest up to $375 million in three new Bioenergy Research Centers, to be located in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Madison, Wisc.; and near Berkeley, Calif. The centers will focus on reducing the cost of cellulosic ethanol.

2007 — University of Buffalo researchers describe the central mechanism of action for enzymes, explaining the complexity of biological catalysis.

2008 – The 2008 Farm Bill included a Biorefinery Assistance Program (Section 9003) for advanced biofuel production. The program included funding for grants for demonstration scale plants up to 30 percent of costs and loan guarantees for commercial scale plants up to $250 million per plant.

2009 – The USDA Rural Development approved the first ever loan guarantee to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. The $80 million loan went to Range Fuels Inc., in Soperton, Ga.  

2009 – The Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era™) study, U.S. Economic Impact of Advanced Biofuels Production: Perspectives to 2030, showed direct job creation from advanced biofuels production could reach 190,000 by 2022 and direct economic input is expected to rise to $37 billion by 2022.

2010 – Synthetic biology garners attention for reaching a milestone in creating synthetic life in the form of a self-replicating cell from synthesized DNA.

2010 – A 2010 World Economic Forum report showed that using renewable biomass for biofuels, energy and chemicals has the potential to contribute upwards of $230 billion to the global economy by 2020.

2011 – In his State of the Union address, President Obama said we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels and should invest in tomorrow’s energy rather than subsidizing yesterday’s energy. 

2011 – The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) was established to provide financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land who wish to establish, produce and deliver biomass feedstocks.

2011 – The USDA finalized rules for the BioPreferred Certified Biobased Product labeling program, a voluntary program that allows biobased product manufacturers and distributors to be able to affix a USDA Certified Biobased Product label on qualifying products.

2011 – President Obama announced that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will invest up to $510 million during the next three years in partnership with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation.