Genetically Modified Crops

1. What is agricultural biotechnology?

  • 1.1 How is agricultural biotechnology defined?
  • 1.2 How have agricultural technologies evolved over time?

1.1 How is agricultural biotechnology defined?

The use of yeast to make bread is an example of traditional biotechnology Source: GreenFacts

Biotechnology can be described as any technology that uses living organisms to make or modify a product for a practical purpose. Some traditional techniques have been used for thousands of years. Natural yeasts, for instance, have been used to make bread, beer, and wine through a process called fermentation.

In the last century, more sophisticated techniques have used other micro-organisms to make antibiotics, amino acids, vitamins, and other useful products. Modern biotechnology, developed during the past 30 years, usually makes changes to the hereditary material of a living organism by a technique called genetic engineering or genetic modification.

Modern biotechnology is currently used industrially to make useful products such as vaccines, antibiotics, enzymes, and hormones such as insulin.

In crop plant breeding, biotechnologies are used to develop plants resistant to pests, diseases, drought, heat, or cold, as well as to improve the nutritional content of plant food. More...

Table 1: An agricultural technology timeline

1.2 How have agricultural technologies evolved over time?

1.2.1 For about 10 000 years, humans have attempted to improve plant characteristics by selecting and breeding individuals with desired characteristics. As a consequence, modern plants now differ substantially from their ancestors.

Classical breeding involves the cross breeding of two individuals of the same or of two very closely related species. Each parent donates half of its genetic material (DNA) to its offspring, so non-beneficial characteristics may be introduced along with beneficial ones. This conventional method is thus slow and demanding since many generations may be necessary to retain the good characteristics and to eliminate the bad ones. Conventional or modern biotechnologies can be used to make the process more efficient. More... More...

1.2.2 Desirable and detrimental characteristics are determined by the genes carried by the parent plants and may differ as a result of natural variation in genes. Plant breeders have succeeded in increasing this genetic variation by treating plants with mutagens that cause changes in the genetic material of the plant. The individual plants obtained by this method can have genetic characteristics that may be difficult to find in nature. More...

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