Technological innovations in agriculture emphasizes on manipulation of cellular and sub-cellular structures of organisms and essential commodities that make the human food system. The manipulation of cells, plant, animal, or microbial, via physical, chemical, or biological methods is known as Agricultural Biotechnology. Agrifood biotechnology uses techniques to develop products such as transgenic crops that use genetic engineering to modify genes into useful traits. The most commonly found transgenic crops are modified in order to resist damages by herbicides or produce bacillus thuringiensis toxin to kill harmful pests especially caterpillars. Not only food crops, but even agricultural crops such as cotton are challenged by genetic engineering.
Biotech foods that are produced must be safe for consumption because mutagens are found are in most human foods. Foods such as beets and tomatoes have one in a million chance of introducing a fatal mutagen into the body but this cannot be the case with all foods. In order to check the mutagenicity of the foods consumed, scientists emerged with methods to regulate agricultural pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides. Rodenticides, in particular, were introduced to prevent contamination and infestations of pests. Since both food safety and economy is at stake here, scientists believe that it better to accept technological risks in the interest on mankind.
Animal biotech in Agriculture
Animal biotechnology applies recombinant DND techniques in animals. The two popular animal biotechnology forms are genetic engineering and cloning. In the case of animals, genetic engineering introduces transgenes into the animal DNA. Animal cloning started to take shape in the 1990s and was considered as a promising and a path breaking application in the field of agriculture. An embryo that is split into two halves can be potentially developed into clones. In 1997 animal cloning achieved a massive breakthrough in the form "Dolly", the first cloned mammal. This breakthrough was achieved by the researchers at the Rosalyn Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland.
The principles of genetic engineering and cloning apply not only to vertebrate species but even to arthropods. Among the vertebrates, rodents have been subjected to most genetic experiments in medical and agricultural biotechnology. The researches aim to achieve gene manipulation and gene advances in human medicine and food. Even before Dolly was created, scientists began experimenting with animals such as goats, pigs, and cows in the 1980s predominantly for agricultural research. Yet, animal numbers, pharm animals and transgenics, will be lesser when compared to the production of food animals.
Uses of Agricultural Biotechnology
Agricultural biotechnology is used in different forms such as: (1) genetic engineering, where scientists move genes from one organism to another. Food crops are improved with the help of transferred DNA in order to support farmers in crop productivity and in preventing crop damages from insects, and weeds; (2) vaccines which are biotechnological derived are used in humans and in livestock. Certain vaccines provide protection against some infectious diseases when used the first time. These vaccines are stable at room temperature; (3) tissue culture, to regenerate plants from disease-free plants. This technique has allowed disease free agricultural materials for crops. Some of the crops that are produced by tissue culture include bananas, coffee, citrus, avocados, and papaya to name a few.
Agricultural Biotechnology Today
Biotechnology in food and agriculture has existed for centuries. The very first biotechnology food product, introduced in 1990, was an enzyme that was used in baking yeast and in cheese production. Since then, genetically engineered crops are being used by farmers till today. According to a 2003 report, nearly 7 million farmers across 18 different countries were planting and harvesting biotech plants. Most of the biotech crop areas were from developing nations. As per world data, transgenic crops have increased by 40 times from 1996 to 2003. Recently, India and Philippines have joined the list of countries that grow genetically engineered crops.
According to researchers, genetically modified crops improve the nutritional value of food. Examples include, the United States has developed and commercialized virus-resistance varieties of zucchini and squash. The Hawaiian scientists have succeeded in growing genetically altered papayas, while scientists are in the process on developing hybrid crops such as sweet potatoes for African nations.
The future generation of agricultural biotechnology depends on a strong scientific base and core competencies that improve benefits and reduce the risks involved.
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