BIOTECHNOLOGY IS defined as any technique that uses live organisms viz. bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, animal cells, plant cells etc. to make or modify a product, to improve plants or animals or to engineer micro-organisms for specific uses. Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques used to improve plants, animals and microorganisms.
DNA is the key to biotechnology and based on its understanding scientists have developed solutions to increase agricultural productivity. Starting from the ability to identify genes that may confer advantages on certain crops, and the ability to work with such characteristics very precisely, biotechnology enhances breeders’ ability to make improvements in crops and livestock. Biotechnology enables improvements that are not possible with traditional crossing of related species alone. Foods developed with biotechnology are as safe as those developed with conventional practices.
The primary tools used in agricultural biotechnology are defined serve the purposes of the review. Genetic engineering inserts fragments of DNA into chromosomes of cells and then uses tissue culture to regenerate the cells into a whole organism with a different genetic composition from the original cells. This is also known as rDNA technology; it produces transgenic organisms. Tissue culture manipulates cells, anthers, pollen grains, or other tissues; so they live for extended periods under laboratory conditions or become whole, living, growing organisms; genetically engineered cells may be converted into genetically engineered organisms through tissue culture. Embryo rescue places embryos containing transferred genes into tissue culture to complete their development into whole organisms. Embryo rescue is often used to facilitate “wide crossing” by producing whole plants from embryos that are the result of crossing two plants that would not normally produce offspring.
Somatic hybridization removes the cell walls of cells from different organisms and induces the direct mixing of DNA from the treated cells, which are then regenerated into whole organisms through tissue culture. Marker-aided genetic analysis studies DNA sequences to identify genes, QTLs (quantitative trait loci), and other molecular markers and to associate them with organism functions, i.e., gene identification. Marker-aided selection is the identification and inheritance tracing of previously identified DNA fragments through a series of generations. Genomics analyzes whole genomes of species together with other biological data about the species to understand what DNA confers what traits in the organisms. Similarly, proteomics analyses the proteins in a tissue to identify the gene expression in that tissue to understand the specific function of proteins encoded by particular genes. Both, along with metabolomics (metabolites) and phenomics (phenotypes), are subcategories of bioinformatics.
An example of traditional agricultural biotechnology is the development of disease-resistant wheat varieties by cross-breeding different wheat types until the desired disease resistance was present in a resulting new variety. Crops such as corn, cotton, and potato have been successfully transformed through genetic engineering to make a protein that kills certain insects when they feed on the plants.
The protein is from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which has been used for decades as the active ingredient of some “natural” insecticides. In some cases, an effective transgenic crop-protection technology can control pests better and more cheaply than existing technologies. For example, with Bt engineered into a cotton crop, the entire crop is resistant to certain pests, not just the part of the plant to which Bt insecticide has been applied. In these cases, yields increase as the new technology provides more effective control. Genetic engineering has allowed new options for improving the nutritional value, flavor, and texture of foods. Transgenic crops in development include soybeans with higher protein content, potatoes with more nutritionally available starch and an improved amino acid content, beans with more essential amino acids, and rice with the ability produce beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, to help prevent blindness in people who have nutritionally inadequate diets.
The researchers have isolated a gene from sunflower known as HAHB4, which helps the plant endure water shortages. That gene is introduced into wheat, soybean and maize. Researchers have noticed that plants with high tolerance to salt stress possess naturally high levels of a substance called glycinebetaine. Like many early innovations, golden rice was publicized before a practical version was available. Generated in public-sector research laboratories, it was produced with the help of patented tools used under research licenses. Commercialization will require negotiation of numerous licenses and use in conjunction with other dietary sources of Vitamin A or will have to be redesigned to contain a higher beta carotene content to meet nutritional needs.
Modern biotechnology represents unique applications of science that can be used for the betterment of society through development of crops with improved nutritional quality, resistance to pests and diseases, and reduced cost of production. Biotechnology, in the form of genetic engineering, is a facet of science that has the potential to provide important benefits if used carefully and ethically. Society should be provided with a balanced view of the fundamentals of biotechnology and genetic engineering, the processes used in developing transgenic organisms, the types of genetic material used, and the benefits and risks of the new technology.