When it was first introduced, biotechnology was predominantly used in medicine to research and produce pharmaceutical and diagnostic products that help in preventing and curing diseases. However, over the last few decades, this technology has found a place in the agricultural industry like never before. Years of research indicate that agricultural biotechnology is a safe and beneficial technology that plays a big role in promoting economic and environmental sustainability. Genetically modified crops and food have been the main areas of focus for this technology. However, agro-biotechnology is still producing a variety of other products that offer innumerable benefits to the global population. For example, explore the following 10 products of agricultural biotechnology.
New vaccines employing biotechnology innovations are changing the processes of preventing illnesses, particularly in developing countries. Genetically modified crops have had a significant contribution in the development of vaccines. Foods such as fruits, grains, and vegetables are engineered to carry antigenic proteins which are extracted from pathogens. When injected into the body, these antigens trigger an immune response and boost the resistance of the body against the pathogens.
An example is the anti-lymphoma vaccine that’s obtained from tobacco. Tobacco plants are engineered to carry RNA from malignant B-cells. The extracted protein is injected into the body, an immune response is triggered which destroys the cancerous cells.
Plant and Animal Reproduction
The use of traditional techniques such as cross-pollination, grafting, and cross-breeding to enhance the behavioral patterns of plants and animals is time-consuming. Agro-biotech has made it possible to enhance plant and animal traits on a molecular level through over-expression or gene removal, or the introduction of foreign genes.
Artificial insemination, embryo transfer, and other associated technologies are used in managing the reproductive functions of an animal and influencing the traits of the resultant offspring. These improvements have increased agricultural productivity in developing countries and enhanced their capabilities to sustain the growing population.
Agricultural biotechnology is applied in the production of antibiotics for both humans and animals. Animal antibiotics produced through this technology are low cost but equally as efficient as traditionally manufactured antibiotics. Since these antibiotics are obtained from plants, a large quantity of the product can be obtained at a time. Additionally, there is ease of purification and the risk of contamination is minimized as compared to the use of mammalian cells and culture media in antibiotics production.
In a bid to promote better human health globallys, scientists have come up with ways to create genetically modified foods with nutrients that can help fight disease and starvation. A great example of such foods is the golden rice which contains beta carotene, a major source of Vitamin A in the body.
The name of the rice comes from the color of the transgenic grain made from three genes: two from daffodils and one from bacterium. The genes are cloned to make the rice “golden.” People who eat this rice supplement their diet with the vitamin and other nutrients that they may not be getting from other foods.
In the past, farmers have incurred significant losses due to the use of pesticides that affect both crops and weeds. Biotechnology has led to the engineering of plants that are resistant to pesticides. This allows farmers to selectively kill weeds without harming their crop. A famous example is the Roundup-Ready tech introduced by Monsato.
The tech was first introduced in genetically modified soy beans, making them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. The herbicide can be applied in copious amounts to eliminate other plants on a field other than the Roundup-Ready plants. Selective elimination of weeds saves farmers’ valuable time as compared to traditional methods of weeding.
For many years, a microbe known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) has been used to dust crops by producing toxic proteins against pests. One of such toxic proteins used for dusting crops is the European corn borer. Scientists have come up with a way to eliminate the use of Bt by introducing pest resistant crops. These are known as Bt crops as the gene that’s introduced in the crop was originally identified in Bacillus thuringiensis. Examples if pest resistant crops today are Bt maize, potato, and corn. This toxic protein is only harmful to pests, but is safe for humans. It has saved farmers from dealing with expensive pest infestations in crops.
Agricultural biotechnology is not just about developing drugs and genetically modified foods and crops – it has some aesthetic applications as well. Scientists are using gene recognition and transfer techniques to improve the color, size, smell, and other properties of flowers. The technology has also been used to improve other ornamental plants such as shrubs and trees. Some of the techniques applied are similar to those used on crops. For instance, tropical plants’ color confrontation can be enhanced to make it possible for the tree to thrive in gardens in the northern regions.
The agricultural industry plays a major role in the production of bio-fuels to the extent that feedstock is used for fermentation and purification of bio-oil, bio-ethanol, and bio-diesel. Genetic engineering and enzyme optimization techniques are used to produce good-quality feed stocks for more efficient conversions and higher BTU outputs of the resultant bio-fuels. High-energy and high-yielding feed stocks can reduce the relative costs of harvesting and transportation. The result is high-quality bio-fuel products.
A Biotic Strain Confrontation
A very small proportion of the earth, approximately 20 percent, is arable land. However, scientists have come up with ways to modify crops that can endure conditions such as salinity, cold, and drought. For instance, the detection of genes in plants that are tasked with the uptake of sodium has led to the introduction of plants that can thrive in high-salinity environments.
A technique known as up- or down-regulation of record is used to influence drought-resistance in plants. These technologies have increased food production as plants are able to adapt to hostile climates and non-arable lands.
Manufacture of Power Fibers
The strongest fiber known to man today is spider silk. It is stronger than kevlar, which is used to make bullet-proof vests and has a higher tensile strength than strength. In August 2000, a Canadian company, Nexia, announced that they had engineered transgenic goats that could produce spider silk proteins in their milk.
For a while, the technology seemed like it would solve the problem. However, it was shelved when the scientists couldn’t come up with a way to spin the protein into fibers. Although the technology has been put on hold, it is bound to appear again in the future because of high demand for similar products.