Biotechnology is the branch of biology which deals with the use of microorganisms for performing various industrial functions or processes. Some describe it as the applied biology which deals with the use of living things in engineering, technology, medicine and other useful applications of life. At present the modern use of biotechnology is in genetic engineering and tissue culture technologies. Biotechnology has major use in the domestication of animals and in their breeding to get more healthy animals. It is also useful in cultivation of plants and improvements in their growth through hybridization.
Biotechnology is applied in four major industrial sectors like health care, agriculture, crop production, non food uses of crops. For example it plays an important role in manufacturing milk and beer. Other use is to recycle wastes and clean the sites which get contaminated by industries by using the method bioremediation. Many modern biotechnology applications can be found in medicine. For example drug production, gene therapy and genetic testing.
With all these benefits of biotechnology, it has some issues also.
Genetically modified food and crops:-
Genetically modified food is used mostly in developed countries. Scientists can successfully take genes from one plant and inserts them into the desired plants and make varieties of plants of their own choice. USA and China are the developed countries of the world and they grow genetically modified crops. Through genetic engineering it has been possible to transfer genes between species of plants which is almost impossible to do in normal or traditional breeding. There is an example of first genetically modified crop. This crop was modified with a gene which was taken from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterium codes for a toxin which acts against some pests of crops. Now Bt toxins or insecticides are sprayed on the crops and more healthy and beautiful varieties of crops are produced. But the direct injection of Bt toxin gene into the plant genome raises many controversies against genetic engineering of crops and food products which are derived from them.
Major concern about introducing genetically modified crops is that these crops might put an uncertain impact on the environment. Main concern is that the gene triggered into the genome of the plant might transfer to the other plants including weeds. Then there will be specialized form of weeds which can be resistant against insecticides and develop into useless plants. This transfer of genes may cause the loss of genetic diversity within the crop species and ecosystem can also be destabilized. Major concern of scientists is about Bt toxins. They consider that this gene might trigger in the non-targeted organisms which can destroy the populations of useful insects.
Human health issue:
Genetically modified food might also be dangerous for human health. One point is that the novel genes which are transferred into the crop from the organisms may not be used in the food or animal feed products. Then this introduction of gene will lead to the allergens into the food chain. For example a gene has been taken from Brazil nut which successfully transferred into the Soya, an animal feed. When this product was tested for allergens, it showed the positive results and was never brought in the market for sale. There is another fear about food safety is that toxic compounds may develop in the genetically modified products. Scientists argue that it is easy to test the toxicity in genetically modified crops. Then there will be less danger in using genetically modified food.
Genetically modified crops and food safety:
Developing countries are facing a very important challenge that is they hope to use biotechnology to deal with food security. But they think that genetically modified crops and food is not appropriate for their vital needs. Biotechnology firms have not succeeded in addressing these needs that is why it leaves a large gap between the public sector and biotech firms. Costs of research in biotechnology are so high that is why there should be a partnership between public and private sector so that biotechnology benefits reach those people who are in most need of them. Development of "golden rice" is the new initiative which has been modified to improve the production of beta carotene. The production of beta carotene is very useful for the poor countries because it fulfills the deficiency of vitamin A. Lack of this vitamin is the major cause of partial or total blindness in half a million of children.
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