Applications of biotechnology in agriculture

Biotechnology has entered every field of our life. In fact, agriculture is now fully dependent on biotechnology due to changing climatic conditions.

Crop improvement

Unlike traditional breeding, genetic engineering makes it possible to specifically select exactly the desired traits and insert them into the plant. Genetic engineering allows the scientists to know exactly which genes they are inserting into the plant.
Bt. corn is an example of how a gene of a bacteria is inserted into a plant. Bacillus thuriengensis, referred to as Bt is a naturally bacterium that is toxic only to certain insect larvae. Scientists can produce the identical copy of the gene and can insert it into the corn plant. In this way, favorable traits such as pest resistance, drought resistance and salinity resistance can be cultivated.
The main objective of plant breeding is to develop new crop varieties superior in all aspects as compared to the existing types. With the discovery of sex in plants, hybridization of plants was included in breeding techniques.

Methods of crop improvement

  • Greater production techniques.

  • Less chemical damage.

  • Hardier plants.

  • Improved food quality.

  • Improved protection against diseases.

  • Increased tolerance to insects.

The method of producing two or more plants of unlike genetic constitution are crossed together is called hybridization. The three important types of hybridization are based on interrelationships between parental plants:

  • intravarietal hybridization.

  • Interspecific hybridization.

  • Intergenic hybridization.

Hybridization has been use successfully to produce crop plants that are more:

  • drought resistant

  • disease resistant

  • frost resistant

For example, many hybrid varieties of wheat and corn are now grown throughout the world to meet the food demands for both people and farm animals.

Tissue culture

The isolation of cells, tissues or organs from the plant body and growing them in suitable containers in an artificial nutrient medium under controlled conditions. The basis of tissue culture is totipotency which the capacity of living cell of multi-cellular organism to develop independently into an organism under suitable conditions.

Advantages of tissue culture

  • The production of exact replicas of plants that produce particularly good flowers, fruits or have other desirable traits.

  • To quickly produce mature plants.

  • The production of multiples of plants in the absence of seeds or necessary pollinators to produce seeds.

  • The regeneration of whole plants from plant cells that have been genetically modified.

  • The production of plants in sterile containers that allows them to be moved with greatly reduced chances of transmitting diseases, pests and pathogens.

  • The production of plants form seeds that otherwise have very low chances of germinating.

    Application of plant tissue culture

    • Micropropogation used to produced large numbers of identical individuals. It is widely used in forestry, floriculture and for conservation of rare endangered plant species.

    • A plant breeder may use the technique to screen cells rather than plants for advantageous characters.

    • Large scale growth of plant cells in liquid culture in bioreactors as a source of secondary products like bio-pharmaceuticals.

    • To cross distantly related species by protoplast fusion and regeneration of the new hybrid.

      Genetically modified food

      A genetically modified food is a food product derived form genetically engineered microbes such as a crop plant, animal or microbe such as a yeast.
      Controversies surround the use of these food and organisms. Those who support GM food believe that if genetic information in the chromosomes is decoded and genetic mechanisms are fully understood, we can potentially control and improve human health human health, quality of life and biochemical processes in our body.
      The Indian government's proposal to feed millions of malnourished children with genetically modified potatoes through the free mid day meal programs in schools has generated a storm of protests. Experts say that this attempt to create "miracle solutions" does not address the needs of malnourished kids. There has also been a protest against "Bt brinjal" by an eminent yoga teacher, Ramdev Baba.

      Transgenic plants and crops

      Transgenic plants are produced by adding one or more gene into the genome of the plant by a process called transformation. Such plants are developed for a variety of reasons such as:

      • longer shelf life

      • Disease resistant

      • herbicide resistance

      • pest resistance

      There are three general types of transgenic plants:

      • Plants with genes to improve the quality of the product.

      • Plants with genes to allow them to resist disease or herbivores consumption by herbivores.

      • Plants with genes that allow them to be resistant to the effects of specific herbicides.

      A type of transgenic plant called pharmacrops aim to use plants for manufacture of other products such as pharmaceuticals and industrial products.

      Impact of GM crops on environment

      A recent study investigating the global impact of GM crops reported that they contributed to significantly reduce greenhouse gases emissions form agricultural practices.

      Future applications of GM crops

      On the horizon are the bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, fish that mature more quickly, fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier and plant that produce new plastics with unique properties.The next decade will see exponential progress in GM product development as researchers gain increasing access to genomic resources that are applicable to organisms beyond the scope of individual projects.
      Like all new technologies, they also pose threat and risks both known and unknown. Controversies surrounding GM food and crops commonly focus on human and environmental safety, labeling and consumer choice, intellectual property rights, ethics, food security, poverty reduction and environmental conservation.

      It is even said, today, that India's biotechnology industry is poised to record substantial growth, perhaps even overtaking the robust IT industry.

      Related article: Applications and various uses of biotechnology

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