A wide-ranging, non-judgmental status report on biotechnology, defined by Britain's Spinks Commission as ""the application of biological organisms, systems, or processes to manufacturing and service industries."" As editor of England's Piotechnology Bulletin, Elkington has firsthand knowledge of a science that promises to have as profound an impact on the near future as the splitting of the atom had on the recent past. At the outset, the author puts the emergent field into succinct perspective, reviewing the contributions of such pioneers as Mendel, Pasteur, Fleming, and Crick and Watson--the latter in 1953 unlocked the secret of DNA, the molecule at the heart of genetics. In just over 30 years, biotech has become a big, global business, Elkington reports. During the past decade alone, it has attracted upwards of $2.5 billion in venture capital. Of every $100 invested, over $60 has been earmarked for medical/health projects which appear to offer the best (and quickest) prospect of handsome payoffs; agriculture's allotment approximates $23, with the balance distributed among all other potential applications. Elkington does not seriously question the bottom-line pressures that currently direct the flow of biotech funds. Nor does he doubt that the probable rewards of genetic engineering--new foods, fuels, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, et al.--outweigh obvious risks like development of horrific germ-warfare weapons. Biotech's realizable benefits are too broad and important not to be pursued, understood, and controlled, he says. While comparatively few commercial products have reached the marketplace, Elkington rates biotech's possibilities as almost limitless. He downplays many of the infant industry's foolish fancies, but likes the near-term chances of a cure for AIDS, supervaccines, aging retardants, self-shearing sheep, homing salmon, fungal meat substitutes, micro-organisms that can enhance recovery of hydrocarbons, and a host of other apparent long shots. Owing to the technical nature of the material, Elkington's comprehensive but concise and frequently colorful text makes above-average demands on lay readers. Overall, though, a first-rate briefing.