Applications of Biotechnology in agriculture

Biotechnology is the application of biological science in the preparation and usage of organic products such as food and drugs. The combined efforts of biotechnology and genetics play a vital role both in small-scale and the large-scale production of many organic compounds. Many modern farming techniques these days revolve around these 2 domains to improve breeds and quality. Agricultural biotechnology or green biotechnology is the comprehensive way of applying various techniques to manage crops that include but not limited to the upbringing of disease-resistant plants and animal, mas production of crops, scientific way of ripening of fruits, hybridisation of various useful species etc.

Green biotechnology

Trends in agricultural biotechnology

With the advent of genetic science and biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals have witnessed an ever-increasing uptrend. Many genetically modified plants, animals, and microbes have been prepared based on the principles of genetics and advanced biotechnology. Artificial production of useful species of fungi, plants and animals would have been impossible in the absence of modern biotechnology. Agricultural biotechnology has encouraged scientists to design domestic organisms as per the prevailing demands of the food industry. Moreover, the scientific knowledge of biotechnology in farming has been increasingly applied in many food processing industries. 

Applications of green biotechnology

  1. The world is witnessing a chronic state of hunger due to food crisis due to poor and outdated farming techniques that mostly rely on the uncontrolled usage of pesticides, weedicides and artificial composts. With a gradual shift in the techniques used in the farming industry, good old methods have been slowly lost their rhythm and given its way for newer ones. Some of the ways biotechnology has helped poor farmers are as follows:

  2.  Biotechnology has helped many farmers to practice chemical-free farming methods.  However, the application of the principles of biotechnology on large-scale farming needs to be improved.

  3. When the right techniques are implied, biotechnology has been very much useful to manage environmental pollution, global warming, green gas effects, and the management of depletion of the groundwater tables.

  4. Many agricultural organizations have been successfully promoting this speciality to improve the quality and quantity of the yields. This is because the devices used in the biotechnology have made crop production easy and economical by greatly minimising the turnaround time of the crops.

  5. Several techniques of biotechnology have been actively helping to produce genetically modified crops that are disease-resistant, safe, fast-growing and high-yielding breeds. Some of the most common techniques include agrochemical based agriculture, organic agriculture and genetically engineered crop-based agriculture. The primary intention of the agricultural biotechnology is to prepare GMOs (genetically modified organisms) as they have the ability to resist illnesses. The advantages of GMOs are:

  6. Agricultural biotechnology enables fast turnaround of the breeds. If the expected time of harvesting the final crops is 3 months, GMOs have brought them down it to 2 months or even lesser to make the harvesting process quicker. This has saved ample time, money, effort and resources.

Some specific examples of green biotechnology

Developing disease-resistant breeds

Many environmental stressors cause several new diseases in plants. Green biotechnology has enabled farmers to generate hybrid plants and animals that can withstand diseases caused by a variety of pests, fungus, viral and bacterial infections. For example, preparation of Bt-toxin by a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. The gene of Bt toxin is first cloned in the laboratory and then delivered it to some plants. The toxin proved useful as strains of Bacillus thuringiensis could produce some proteins that can kill tobacco budworm and armyworm. This has almost reduced the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers. Some common Bt breeds are Bt corn, Bt cotton, rice, tomato, potato and soya bean.

Producing insect and pest-resistant plants

RNA interface( RNAi) technique has helped many plants to gain resistance against pests and insects. It works by suppressing protein synthesis in the pests and is carried out with the help of a complementary double stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecule that binds and prevents translation of the mRNA. The techniques involve silencing of a specific mRNA by introducing a complementary RNA in the form of an infecting agent.  One of the experimental examples for this is Agrobacterium vectors. Some specific genes introduced into the host plant has produced both sense and anti-sense RNA in the host cells. The combination of these 2 strands formed a double-stranded (dsRNA) that initiated RNAi to produce specific mRNA of the nematode.

Developing herbicide tolerance 

Herbicides are frequently used to control weeds. However, excessive usage can eventually spoil the fertility of the soil in addition to the serious damage to the quality of the primary crop. Green biotechnology has solved this riddle by making plants selectively resistant to the herbicides despite repeated sprays. In the past, resistance to synthetic herbicides has been introduced among corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, rice, and flax.

Delayed fruit ripening 

Some times it is necessary to transport fruits and vegetables to a longer distance which requires weeks to months. But it is not possible to do so when crops ripen quickly, therefore it is important to delay the ripening process by some genetic interventions. A slight genetic modification in the progenies helps them persist for a longer period by blocking the ripening process in the fruit. The most common techniques used in this case are Suppression of ACC synthase gene expression (aminocyclopropane), Insertion of the ACC deaminase gene, insertion of the SAM hydrolase gene, suppression of ACC oxidase gene expression etc. 

GMOs

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material is subjected to artificial manipulation under a controlled setting in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This can transform a great combination of plants, animals, bacterium, and viruses genes into highly productive ones. Some of the ways GMOs can benefit are as follows:

Role of GMOs -genetically modified organisms

  1. Foods prepared from GMOs have longer shelf-life hence, they can be packed and transported without spoilage to distant places.

  2. The crops prepared from GMOs can withstand against many abiotic stressors like excessive cold, drought, and the heat.

  3. GMOs make crops less reliant to the harmful chemical sprays.

  4. They greatly helped to reduce the post-harvest losses.

  5. Plants produced by GMO- based technology have exhibited their ability to use a good amount of minerals through their root system. Such plants have rightly improved soil fertility.

  6. Some GMO products helped to improve the nutritional value of foods without adding additives.

  7. The techniques used in green biotechnology have introduced many pure breeds.

 Drawbacks of GM products 

  1. On the long run, GM crops may develop antibiotic resistance.

  2. Farmers growing genetically modified foods must comply with many legal liabilities. This is because a lot of industries in the past misused the technique by raising genetically unapproved crops.

  3. It takes more time to release a GM product into the market as they must be subjected to the several reliability and safety tests before pitching them.

  4. Some of the techniques are highly expensive making it impossible to afford by the small scale farmers.

  5. Biotechnology involves the manipulation of the crops at the germ level so it can harm the purity and safety of the product. 

  6. Some studies suggested that the consumption of genetically modified foods may increase the risk of cancer. 

Crop-modification techniques

Traditional crossbreeding

Traditional crossbreeding is the most conventional technique used since ages. Crossbreeding is carried out between the 2 sexually compatible species to create desired offsprings with a reasonable variation. Crossbreeding can be inbreeding, outbreeding, outcrossing etc.

Mutagenesis

Healthy induced mutation achieves desirable variation in the offspring, however, it might be risky if it is done for a prolonged period. Mutagenesis introduces mutants into the organism to constructively induce random mutations. It is aided by mutants like chemicals, radioactive substances and some biological agents. However, on need to weigh the pros and cons of the process beforehand.

Polyploidy

Polyploidy increases the number of chromosomes in a crop that benefit farmers in 2 ways. The resulting crop is either large in size or number of fruits or vegetables are increased in an individual plant. Large-sized seedless watermelons are produced by crossing a watermelon with 4-sets of the chromosome with another watermelon containing  2-set chromosome. The resulting progeny is a sterile (seedless) watermelon.

 Genome editing

Genome editing has gained its traction since the 1980s. It is the systematic process of introducing an enzyme system that modifies the cell`s DNA directly. Genome editing has helped to build many herbicide-resistant plants.

 Protoplast fusion

The cells and cellular components of 2 different species are merged with the help of protoplast fusion. For example, by using protoplast fusion, the radish can be crossed with red cabbage to produce a unique breed that resembles both the parents.

RNA interference

It is a process by which the cell’s RNA is manipulated to completely shut down the protein synthesis. RNA interface can be used as a medium of gene suppression against the weeds. It is also used as one of the practical tools in the field of medicine.

Transgenic process

The transgenic process is a procedure to insert a piece of DNA into the  DNA of another organism to produce a new variety. It is a straight forward method used by most of the biotechnologists. For more read about transgenic animals

 

Questions

  1. Explain the relationship between biotechnology and genetics.

  2. What is a green biotechnology?

  3. Explain any 5 applications of green biotechnology.

  4. Describe some crop-modification techniques.

  5. Distinguish between  Genome editing and RNA interface.

  6.  What is protoplast fusion?

  7. Explain the uses of mutagenesis.

  8. What are the areas of biotechnology?

  9. Explain the role of biotechnology in agriculture.

  10. Explain the techniques of Crop-modification.

  11. What are GMOs? Explain their uses in the farming industry.

 



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