Career & Technical Education

Living Systems

A Technology Content Organizer (TCO)

Broadly defined as: Creating and modifying biological processes


New industries such as biotechnology are emerging as knowledge is gained into the highly energy- and material- efficient processes employed by living systems for self- propagation and the formation of functional structures such as organs, shells, or musculo-skeletal systems. This knowledge is being applied not only to the agricultural and aquacultural production of food plants and animals, but human health protection and medical care. The Living Systems technology category includes four technology areas: biotechnology, medical technology, agriculture and food technology, and human systems.

Biotechnology is enabling both established and newly emerging industries to design, create, and produce highly specific substances derived from molecular structures and processes in naturally occurring biological systems. Currently, the two most important areas of biotechnology application are human health care and agriculture.

While the United States is the overall world leader in biotechnology, Europe and Japan pose strong competition in specific areas. The United States does more basic research in genetic engineering and molecular biology than any other country. Computer based methods for analyzing and modeling molecular sequences and interaction, as well as facilitating collaboration among widely dispersed groups have contributed to the rapid evolution and application of knowledge in these areas.

The integration of knowledge and practice of many technologies is essential to an effective and efficient system for protecting the public health and delivering health care services. Innovative biomedical research and information-based integrated decision support systems leading to prevention, more effective therapies and minimizing the need for long term care hold the key to advances that can restrain costs while enhancing the quality of public health and health care. Key technologies in this area are integrated information systems, functional diagnostic imaging, biocompatible materials, and the rapid identification of bacteria and viral infectious agents.

Global agriculture is facing the challenges of increasing human population, accelerating need for food, fiber, feed and raw materials for other industries, and a declining amount of cultivated land per capita. Sustainable agricultural systems must address the development of environmentally sound, productive, economically viable and socially desirable agriculture. Aquaculture is currently the most rapidly growing agricultural segment and will play a significant role in providing a stable source of fish protein in the face of declining yield of oceanic fisheries.

The human-machine interface is a critical component in a number of complex integrated systems such as power and communications grids, air traffic control systems, and highly automated process control and manufacturing systems. Such systems typically produce much more data than a human is able to digest in a time-critical situation, so the main job of the interface is to present the data in a form easily understandable by the human and to provide an easy means of interacting with the system to ensure continued safe and reliable operations. The United States has a pre-eminent technical position in understanding human capabilities, behavior and performance while interacting with engineered systems and environments, and in implementing advanced human- machine interfaces. (NCT Report 1995)

Technology Areas

Medical Technologies
Agriculture and Food Technologies
Human Systems


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Last Updated: March 17, 2011