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Biotechnology in Agriculture

The term agriculture refers to the cultivation of plants, animals for food, fuel, clothing, medicine and other products necessary for our lives. Conventional farming is practiced in different ways by different people around the world. It is known that agricultural products have different quality from place to place and some of the agricultural products are not found in some parts of the world while they are abundant in the rest of the world. This difference is due to various factors such as climatic conditions, weather, water availability, mineral content of the soil, and last but not least, political and geographical factors. Another factor that led to the development of modern agriculture is the need to increase the yield of plant products, resistance to diseases, pests, drought in plant products.

Biotechnology has emerged from traditional science to overcome problems in every aspect of life, from plant breeding to genetic engineering. Among the vast applications of Biotechnology, Agricultural Biotechnology is one. It involves growing plants in such a way that the plants produce high yields of products such as grains, vegetables, fruits, leaves (leafy vegetables) and can tolerate extreme conditions such as high temperature, high salinity in water and high humidity in the air. In addition, we can produce vegetable products according to our needs and can control the characteristics such as color, taste, smell and size of fruits and vegetables. All this is made possible by exploiting the properties of the miraculous molecules called DNA (De Oxy Ribose Nucleic Acid). Since the discovery of DNA, scientists have developed solutions to overcome problems in agriculture by modifying the genetic structure of DNA.

Crops whose DNA has been modified are called “Transgenic Plants” or “Transgenic Plants” and the products derived from these plants are called Genetically Modified Plant Products. So, how is this done? All living things, including animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and microorganisms have DNA, which guides their growth and course of survival. This DNA is in turn divided into ‘genes’, which are specific to each characteristic and function of a living organism. This means that if we modify the genes, we are actually modifying any particular “characteristic” or “function” of that organism or any part of that organism. The same principle applies to Agricultural Biotechnology. If we want to enhance the color of the flowers produced by a plant, we can change the genetic structure of the gene responsible for that color. This process can be done using any part of the plant, another example would be to increase the sweetness of a fruit, in this case we modify the gene responsible for the production of fructose. Fructose is a sugar that gives fruit sweetness, in theory, if we change the gene to make more fructose, then the fruit will become sweeter.

The breakthrough in agriculture was seen when “Flavr Savr” tomatoes were introduced to the American market on May 21, 1994. This breakthrough led to the foundation of non-refrigerated storage of vegetables and fruits for several days. An enzyme called Polygalacturonase is responsible for breaking down the pectin of the cell wall. A gene complementary to the Polygalacturonase gene can be cloned using antisense RNA technology. This antisense gene will block the Polygalacturonase produced by its gene and thus stop the decay of fruits and vegetables. As the cell wall-degrading enzyme is produced in very small amounts, the delay in fruit and vegetable spoilage is increased. Now this revolutionary technology is being used to save millions of dollars each year by reducing fruit and vegetable waste during transport.

We have discussed only few applications from the huge database of Biotechnology applications in Agriculture. While we have only seen the benefits of Biotechnology, at the same time everything in this world has its own advantages and disadvantages and Biotechnology is no exception to this. The non-scientific community has said much about the potential dangers of Biotechnology to us and our environment, but so far there is little evidence from scientific studies that the dangers are real. At the same time we are experiencing the range of advantages that transgenic plants offer, beyond those that resulted from traditional agricultural practices.

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