Applications of Biotechnology in agriculture

Introduction

Biotechnology is the application of biological science in the preparation and usage of organic products such as food and drugs. In conjunction with the biotechnology, genetics play a vital role both in small-scale and the large-scale production of organic compounds. With the advent of genetic science and biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals have witnessed an ever-increasing uptrend. Many genetically modified 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 if there was no role of biotechnology. Furthermore, a range of medical therapies, (therapeutics) disease diagnostic tools, cell and tissue cultures in a laboratory setting have been successfully used from the past 3 decades with the help of biotechnology. In the field of agriculture, biotechnology has helped to design many disease resistant and genetically modified crops that can defend the most vulnerable environmental conditions. Biotechnology is increasingly applicable in many food processing industries. This article is designed to  explore on the application of biotechnology in various fields.

 

Biotechnology and agriculture( green biotechnology)

The world is witnessing a chronic state of hunger due to food crisis. This is because of poor and outdated farming techniques that primarily rely on the excess use of pesticides, weedicides and artificial composts. Biotechnology has helped many farmers to practice organic and chemical-free agricultural technology.  However, the large-scale agriculture supported by biotechnology is still poor. Biotechnology enhances the scope for managing the environmental pollution, global warming, green gas effects, and the management of depletion of the groundwater tables in a healthy manner. Many agricultural organizations have been successfully promoting the techniques of biotechnology to improve the quality and quantity of the yields. The devices used in the biotechnology has made crop production easy, quick and economical. Many of the genetically modified crops have resulted in disease-resistant, safe, fast-growing and high-yielding breeds. The application of the principles of biotechnology in the field of agriculture is known ads the agricultural biotechnology or green biotechnology. The scientific principles of biotechnology are applicable for; 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 against illnesses. The advantages of GMOs are:

 

  1. 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 an ample time, money, effort and resources.

  2. Genetically modified foods have longer shelf-life hence, they can be packed and transported to distant places without  spoilage.

  3. The resulting crops can withstanding against many abiotic stressors such as excessive cold, drought, and the heat.

  4. GMOs resulted in the crops that are less reliant to the harmful chemical sprays.

  5. Green biotechnology has also helped to reduce the post-harvest losses.

  6. Plants produced by GMO based technology have increased the mineral usage by their root system. This has resulted in a good yield coupled with increased soil fertility.

  7. The nutritional value of foods has improved a lot without adding additives, for example, a papaya fruit yeild better levels of vitamin-A.

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

 

 The drawbacks of biotechnology-based products are:

  1. On the long run, GM crops may develop antibiotic resistance therefore farmers might face difficulties while treating new diseases.

  2. Farmers growing genetically modified foods must have to comply with maby legal liabilities. This is becasue, in the past, many industries have misused for raising the crops that are not legally approved. 

  3. It takes more time to release a GM product into the market as they must be tested for their reliability and safety before approval.

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

  5. Biotechnology involves the manipulation of the crops at cellular level which can harm the purity and safety of the product. 

  6. Consumption of genetically modified foods mayincrease the risk of cancer. 

 

Techniques of Crop-modification

1. Traditional crossbreeding

It is the most conventional technique used since ages. Crossbreeding is carried out between the 2 sexually compatible species to generate a desired offsprings that presents a reasonable variation . While selecting the mates, the specific objectives of breeding must be considered. 

 

2. Mutagenesis

A healthy mutation can help the farmers to achieve the breeds with desirable variation, however prolonged mutation is not as good as one thinks. Mutagenesis is a technique in which mutants are introduced to constructively induce random mutations. The process is assisted by mutants such as chemicals, radioactive substances and some biological agents. it is very important to wight the pros and cons of the process beforehand.

 

3. Polyploidy

It is used to increase the number of chromosomes in a crop so that the resulting progeny will be either larger in size or han individual plant yeilds many fruits or nuts. For example, seedless watermelons are produced by crossing with a watermelon with 4-sets of chromosome with another watermelon having a 2-set chromosome . The resulting progeny will give rise to a sterile (seedless) watermelon.

 

4. Genome editing

Genome editing has been a very popular and scientifically sound since 1980s. It is the process of introduction of enzyme system that modifies the cell`s DNA directly. Genome editing help to build many herbicide-resistant plants so that it is not necessary to spray chemical agents.

 

5. Protoplast fusion

Protoplast fusion is a method in which the cells and cellular components of 2 different species are merged. For instance, by using protoplast fusion, the radish can be crossed with red cabbage to produce an unique breed with better features.

 

6. RNA interference

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

 

7. Transgenic process

It is the procedure through which a piece of DNA is inserted into another organism's DNA to produce a new variety with a desired set of traits in the future progeny. It is a straight forward method used by most of the biotechnologists. For more read about transgenic animals

 

Role of biotechnology in developing disease-resistant breeds

A number of environmental stressors can result in many new diseases in plant and animal populations. Green biotechnology has helped to develop hybrid plants and animals that can withstand aainst a variety of pests, fungus, viral and bacterial infections. One such example is the Bt-toxin produced by a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. The gene of Bt toxin has been cloned from the strain of bacteria and made it to express in plants. The strains of Bacillus thuringiensis can produce some proteins that are capable of killing  tobacco budworm and armyworm. This has allowed the plants to develop resistance against insects hence there is no need to use chemical fertilizers. Some of the examples of Bt breeds are Bt corn, Bt cotton, rice, tomato, potato and soya bean.

 

Role of biotechnology in producing insect and pest-resistant plants

For a plant to gain resistance against pests and insects, RNA interface( RNAi) technique is used. It works on the principle of suppression of protein synthesis in the pests.  By using a complementary DOUBLE STRANDED RNA (dsRNA) molecule that binds and prevents translation of the mRNA, the suppression of protein synthesis is being done. In other words, it involves silencing of a specific mRNA by introducing a complementary RNA in the form of an infecting agent.  One of the experimental example is that, by using Agrobacterium vectors, some specific genes were introduced into the host plant, which in turn produced both sense and anti-sense RNA in the host cells. The combination of these 2 strands has given rise to a double-stranded (dsRNA) that initiated RNAi to produce specific mRNA of the nematode.

 

Developing herbicide tolerance by using Biotechnology

Herbicides are frequently used to control weeds which can eventually spoil the fertility of the soil. Frequent weedicide sprays can seriously affect the quality of the primary crop. Witht he help of green biotechnology, crops are so developed, they can resist against the herbicides. In the past, resistance to synthetic herbicides has been introduced among corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, rice, and flax.

 

Delayed fruit ripening and biotechnology

There are several techniques applied to delay the ripening process of fruits. A genetic modification in the resulting progenies has helped them to survive 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. 

 

Questions

  1. Explain  the relationship between biotechnology and genetics.

  2. What are the areas of biotechnology?

  3. Explain the role of biotechnology in agriculture.

  4. Explain the techniques of Crop-modification.

 



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