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Use of Biotechnology in Agricultural Crop Production

                                                                                                 Biotechnology- plant tissue culture inside a tube / Photo by Shutterstock

 

Food production had been the primary target of almost every nation to improve the economy to a large scale. Whether incorporating technology or using conventional farming, its relevance in sustaining the importance of the industry in feeding the people.

In the agricultural world, where food sources are somewhat scarce and almost limited, new ways to increase productivity as a resort to meet the demands and needs of the society is vital. Every farmer is regarded as a staple in the economy.

Farmers apply various techniques for agricultural crops to ensure that food sources are adequately met but also provides nutritional needs as well. Human food consumption is in great demand as the population increase including commodities and other commercial products.  

 

Genetically engineered, or genetically modified crops have pioneered the modern methods of agriculture. The application to these GM crops for food production greatly affects the economy and it is beneficial to the nation in different aspects.

Food industry and the socio-economic status alike are in contradicting terms with regards to the integration of these methods as well as its biohazard effects on the environment and to the human health as well.

Here are some of the GMO crops currently produced for human consumption according to  GMO Basics: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets.


These genetically modified crops are FDA approved and recommended as safe for consumption.

 

What makes a plant genetically modified?

In a study published by JRSM or the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, various techniques are made to produce GM plants.

The two most commonly employed are the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which is naturally able to transfer DNA to plants, and the ‘gene gun’, which shoots microscopic particles coated with DNA into the plant cell. Generally, individual plant cells are targeted and these are regenerated into whole GM plants using tissue culture techniques.

Three aspects of this procedure have raised debate with regard to human health.

- The use of selectable markers to identify transformed cells

- Transfer of extraneous DNA into the plant genome (i.e. genes other than those being studied)

- The possibility of increased mutations in GM plants compared to non-GM counterparts due to tissue culture processes used in their production and the rearrangement of DNA around the insertion site of foreign genes.

 

 

With regards to traditional farming methods, the use of technology promotes effective and limits the effects of external factors that inhibit the growth of staple crops and other plant sources. In an excerpt from a study about Applications of biotechnology for crop improvement: Prospects and constraints, another process used to make GM crops is through Recombinant DNA.

Recombinant DNA technology has significantly augmented the conventional crop improvement and has a great promise to assist plant breeders to meet the increased food demand predicted for the 21st century.

Several factors affecting plant growth production exist everywhere. This has been elaborated in addition to the study from JRSM. 

A primary cause of plant loss worldwide is abiotic stress, particularly salinity, drought, and temperature extremes. In the future, these losses will increase as water resources decline and desertification intensifies. Drought and salinity are expected to cause serious salinization of all arable lands by 2050, requiring the implementation of new technologies to ensure crop survival.

Recently,  studies focusing on the application of biotechnology on agricultural crops was released in June 2018 from the ISAAA BRIEF 53-2017: Press Release and PG economics.

In the data analysis report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), global biotech crop area increased in 2017 by 3 percent or 4.7 million hectares or 11.6 million acres; Global economic gains contributed by biotech crops in the last 21 years (1996-2016) have amounted to US $186.1 billion economic benefits to more than 16 to 17 million farmers, 95 percent of whom come from developing countries.

From 1996-2016, PG Economics reported biotech crops provided $186.1 billion in economic gains to some 17 million farmers, many of whom are female, smallholder farmers solely responsible for the livelihood of their families and communities.  

“Global food insecurity is a huge problem in developing countries, with around 108 million people in food crisis-affected countries still at risk or experiencing food insecurity,” said Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics and co-author of the socio-economic and environmental impact paper.

In addition to the study,  it highlights the improvement of the socio-economic status of the industry in different developing countries such as India, Pakistan, Brazil, Bolivia, Sudan, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Honduras, and Bangladesh which adopted crop biotechnology in their agricultural methods.

In 2016, the National Academies of Science released a review of more than 1,000 research publications, which concluded that there was no difference between GMO and non-GMO crops in regards to nutritional value or impact on human health.

Further, a 2018 systematic review paper in The Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at GE, or genetically engineered, foods — a specialized subset whose genes have been modified using technology — and found their allergenic potential is no different from that of conventional foods.

Dramatic progress has been made over the past two decades in manipulating genes from diverse and exotic sources, and inserting them into microorganisms and crop plants to confer resistance to insect pests and diseases, tolerance to herbicides, drought, soil salinity and aluminum toxicity; improved post-harvest quality; enhanced nutrient uptake and nutritional quality; increased photosynthetic rate, sugar, and starch production; increased effectiveness of biocontrol agents; improved understanding of gene action and metabolic pathways; and production of drugs and vaccines in crop plants.

 

Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) Crop use 1996–2016: Impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions

Bioengineered products, a term which also refers to genetically enhanced food showed a staggering reduction in greenhouse gas emissions including CO2.

In this study, it showed that resistance to pesticide sprays has led to the reduction of insecticides on crops by 8.2%. Another thing is that with the consequent has also facilitated important cuts in fuel use and tillage changes, resulting in a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the GM cropping area. In 2016, this was equivalent to removing 16.7 million cars from the roads.

 

Farm income and production impacts of using GM crop technology 1996–2016

Another study released focused on updates from annual data collected which examined impacts on yields, key variable costs of production, direct farm (gross) income and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.

This study resulted in herbicide tolerant and insect resistant crops,  GM drought-tolerant maize, and aggregated impacts globally on gross farm income, especially for developing countries.

Furthermore, the data gathered from the analysis of crop technology would really help improve global food production economically.

 

                                                                                                 A young biologist pouring a liquid chemical into a plant / Photo by Shutterstock

 

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