Over the past few decades, biotechnology has penetrated almost every significant field, including medical, industrial, genetics, agriculture and so forth. Biotechnology is a wide-ranging science that uses living organisms, their components or biological processes to generate modern-day tools. These tools and techniques not only have the upper hand over conventional ones but also have the scope for betterment in the future. There are numerous applications of biotechnology that are making the process of agriculture much easier and more effective.
Here, in this content, we will discuss some of the major contributions of biotech in the field of agriculture.
Biotechnology in Agriculture
In order to know how biotechnology got associated with agriculture, you must understand the backstory.
In the years between the 1930s to 1960s, the world population experienced tremendous growth, leading to a shortage of food products. The conventional methods were incapable of sufficing this huge need. At this time, the green revolution came into existence which mainly focused on:
- Use of (High yielding variety) HYV
- Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
These two approaches tripled the production yield with time. But still, the supply wasn’t sufficient enough to cope with the demands. Moreover, chemical fertilizers and pesticides polluted the soil and water bodies. Later, organic farming was introduced to cater for the issues which relied on biofertilizers and biopesticides. Yet this was also not satisfactory.
Finally, the concept of agricultural biotechnology was introduced as an option. Biotechnology in agriculture applied a great effort to change the face of this condition. Consequently, the obtained yields got increased upto 200 to 300 times.
Content: Agricultural Biotechnology
- Genetically Modified Organism
- Pest Resistance
- Increase in Crop Production
- Virus Resistance
- Chemical Tolerance: Herbicide Tolerance
- Temperature Tolerance
- Improved Floriculture
- Improved Food Process
- Better Flavour (FlavourSavour)
- Increase in Nutritional Value
Genetically Modified Organism
GMOs are genetically modified plants, animals, bacteria or fungi whose genetic framework has been desirably manipulated. In agriculture, genetically modified crops (GMC) are produced with this approach.
These crops can have all the desirable characteristics to generate a good yield. GMCs may have the following traits:
- They are more tolerant to stresses such as drought, cold, heat etc.
- They are pest-resistant and, therefore, less dependent on chemical pesticides.
- Genetically Modified crops help to reduce post-harvest losses.
- They help increase mineral usage by plants, thereby preventing early exhaustion of soil fertility.
- Genetically modified crops have enhanced nutritional value. Example – Vitamin A enriched rice(Golden rice).
- GMCs are also capable of growing in an acidic environment.
Around 15% of the world’s crop yield is lost to pest attacks. Till some time ago, the use of chemical pesticides was a one-stop solution to get rid of this problem. But this approach became ineffective with gradually increasing chemical pollution.
Fortunately, the scientist discovered new biotechnological alternatives, thereby preventing pest resistance to the plant. Till now, approx. 40 genes are obtained from different microbes that provide pest resistance to the crop.
Example for Pest Resistance Plants
One of the most common examples of this is BT cotton. Scientists have extracted BT toxin from bacteria named Bacillus thuringiensis and incorporated it into the crop using a host.
BT acts as a toxin for the pest (insects). Under normal conditions, it stays inactive (protoxin state) in the bacillus. But as soon as the insect invades the plant, this toxin enters the insect’s gut; it activates due to the alkaline pH. This activated toxin attacks the epithelial lining of the gut creating pores in it. Consequently, the epithelial cells swell and lyse, causing the death of the insect.
Increase in Crop Production
With modern biotechnological techniques such as plant tissue culture, clonal propagation, protoplast culture, rDNA technology etc., the final crop production can be increased up to its maximum capacity. Also, the GMCs are more tolerant of environmental problems; thus, the chances of crop damage are minimal.
Just like other organisms, plants are also prone to viral infections. The crop with a virus attack may suffer from:
- Hypoplasia (retarded cell growth)
- Hyperplasia (excessive cell growth)
- Reduced crop yield
- Complete crop failure
Most of the chemical methods used against viral infection proved ineffective. However, with the advances in genetic engineering, various plants are grown with virus resistance. These GMCs are less susceptible to virus attacks, thereby making it easier for farmers to prevent crop damage.
Chemical Tolerance: Herbicide Tolerance
Farmers depend upon herbicides to stop the growth of unwanted and useless plants, known as weeds. These weeds steal the nutrients of the crop, retarding the crop growth.
There are several biotechnological strategies for engineering herbicide resistance:
- Mutation of targeted protein
- Detoxification of herbicide by using a foreign gene
- Improved plant detoxification
- Overexpression of targeted protein
Scientists successfully provided a solution for the plants to survive in extreme temperatures. For this, they genetically engineered these genes to regulate cold and heat tolerance.
For example, the genes of papaya trees have been manipulated to tolerate hot and cold conditions.
Floriculture refers to the cultivation of flowers either for gardens or for commercial purposes like making flower jewellery, artefacts, perfumes, bouquets, garlands, decorations, making colours etc. Biotechnology is playing a significant role in increasing the yield as well as the generation of new varieties with improved colour, size, and scent. There are many advanced approaches to improve floriation, such as gene manipulation, micropropagation, tissue culture, breeding, polyploidy induction etc.
Improved Food Process
In 1990, the first food that received regulatory approval was chymosin which was produced by genetically engineered bacteria. It replaced calf rennet in cheese-making, and today it is utilized in 60% of total cheese manufacturing. Improved food processes include a reliable supply, higher yield, increased purity, and cost reduction.
Better Flavour (Flavour Savour)
You can also enhance the flavours and aroma of the food crop by altering the activity of plant enzymes. Currently, transgenic melons and peppers with improved flavour and aroma are available in trial fields.
Similarly, the concept of flavour savour tomatoes was introduced with increased shelf life. This eventually delays the ripening and protects the fruits from spoiling soon.
Increase in Nutritional Value
Due to the constant pollution, the quality of soil has been degraded. This has led to the lack of proper nutrients in the food crops. For instance, to get the nutrients you used to get from one orange, today you have to eat 8 oranges for that same amount. For Instance, the amount of nutrients you used to get from consuming single orange previously, now you need to consume 8 oranges to get an equivalent amount of nutrients.
However, with modern biotechnology, it is now possible to cultivate crops with increased nutritional value. Moreover, by the process of fortification, additional supplements that are conventionally not present in that respective crop can also be added.
Fortified crops are very useful in an area prone to malnutrition and shortage of food. They supplement with deficient nutrition curbing the problem of malnutrition.
Example for Fortified Food
Protato is a genetically modified potato that provides about 1/3rd to ½ more protein content than the normal potato. All essential amino acids, including lysine and methionine, are also present in a significant amount.
Golden rice is a genetically modified variety of rice that is rich in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A; thus, this rice enhances the amount of vitamin A in our bodies.
Leave a Reply