Table of Contents
- With conventional breeding practices reached their saturation point, the “gene revolution” seems to hold lot of potential.
- Agricultural biotechnology or gene technology or genetic engineering may act as the second “green revolution” that can be used to create high yielding crop varieties that are:
- herbicide tolerant,
- insect resistant,
- resistant to pathogens like virus, bacteria and fungi
- have better nutritional value and other commercial properties.
- The crop plants produced by these techniques are called “transgenic” or genetically modified (GM) plants or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- By using the technique of genetic engineering it has been possible to genetically transform large number of agricultural and ornamental crops.
Transgenics have been produced with the following aims:
- Crop resistance to herbicides.
- Crop resistance to insects and diseases.
- Atmospheric nitrogen fixation by cereal crops.
- Tolerance to high salt soils and to flooding in crops.
- Drought resistance in crops.
- Improving nutritional quality of crops.
- Prolonging shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
Some important examples of transgenics or GMOs are:
- Bt cotton produced by incorporating Bt gene which encodes for BT toxin (insecticidal protein in Bacillus thuringiensis) in the cotton plant. The plant becomes insect resistant and this gene has been incorporated in corn, potato, tomato, tobacco etc. making them insect resistant (bio pesticides).
- “Golden Rice” a transgenic with enhanced vitamin A content producing nutritionally rich rice to save many lives.
- Salt and flood tolerance genes have been incorporated in rice so that Bt rice in China shows higher yield and a huge reduction in pesticide use. Such rice can be grown on saline soil.
- By slowing down and controlling ripening in tomato by introducing a bacterial gene that prevents ethylene formation thus delaying ripening. Such tomatoes are easy to handle during transportation and remains on the shelf for a long time.
- Cold damage to crop plants can be minimized by introducing genes for antifreeze proteins (AFPs) found in the blood of artic fishes.
- Frost resistant tomatoes have been produced by introducing gene for antifreeze proteins from polar fish living in ice water.
- Plant biotechnology can help to make intensive agriculture less damaging to the environment as well as help the country to spend less money on fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc.
- Enhanced taste and quality.
- Reduced maturation time.
- Increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance.
- Improved resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides.
- New products and growing techniques.
- Increased resistance, productivity, hardness, and feed efficiency.
- Better yields of meat, eggs, and milk.
- Improved animal health and diagnostic methods.
- “Friendly” bioherbicides and bioinsecticides.
- Conservation of soil, water and energy.
- Bioprocessing for forestry products.
- Better natural waste management.
- More efficient processing.
- Increased food security for growing population.
- Potential human health impact: allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers, unknown effects.
- Potential environmental impact: unintended transfer of transgenes through crosspollination, unknown effects on other organisms (e.g., soil microbes) and loss of flora and fauna biodiversity
Access and intellectual property
- Domination of world food production by a few companies.
- Increasing dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries.
- Biopiracy—foreign exploitation of natural resources.
- Violation of natural organisms’ intrinsic values.
- Tampering with nature by mixing genes among species.
- Objections to transferring animal genes in plants and vice versa.
- Stress for animal.
- Not mandatory in some countries (e.g. United States).
- Mixing GM crops with non-GM confounds labeling attempts.
- New advances may be skewed to interests of rich countries.
- The ineffectiveness of genetically modified (GM) cotton against the recent whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana raised more questions regarding the effectiveness of GMO.
- The whitefly attack in Punjab damaged over 75 per cent crop across the cotton belt.
- This has raised concern among agricultural experts and farmers over the growing dependency on Bt cotton.
- Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce over 200 different Bt toxins, each harmful to different insects.
- Most notably, Bt toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms but are harmless to other forms of life. (this is why Bt cotton failed against whitefly).