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Biotechnology in Agriculture: Did you know that an agriculture-based country like India once struggled with producing sufficient grains to feed its population? Yes, it’s true. During the early to the mid-eighteenth century, the agricultural yield was too little that we needed to import rice.
By the end of the eighteenth century, we stopped buying rice from other countries, and at present, India is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of rice. How did this change occur? All thanks to the Green revolution, pioneered by Sir Norman Borlogue and brought to India by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. They applied agricultural biotechnological techniques to enhance agricultural yields by almost three folds. Read on to explore more about the application, benefits, and risks associated with the application of biotechnology in agriculture.
Agricultural biotechnology can be defined as a sector of agriculture and biotechnology, which uses advanced biological techniques like genetic engineering for enhanced crop production. It involves the use of techniques like gene manipulation and tissue culture to bring desired changes in plant variety.
Fig: Agricultural biotechnology
Human beings learned agriculture around 10,000 B.C. With time we started to domesticate various kinds of plants. Selective breeding led to the development of a new modified variety of plants. We learned to improve our productivity with the help of agrochemicals like fertilizers and pesticides around the 1930s. In the 1960s, the green revolution was brought about worldwide. At present, there are three main approaches to enhance crop yield: Agrochemical based, organic, and GM crops.
Fig: 3 Types of Agricultural Methods
Genetic modification of crops involves inserting DNA into the genome of an organism. Production of a GM plant involves adding a specific stretch of DNA into the plant’s genome, giving it new or different characteristics, and the cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants will inherit the new DNA with the required set of characteristics. Production of genetically modified plants takes long-time research, continuous hard work, and lots of knowledge and funds.
Fig: Steps to Produce Genetically Modified Plants
Some examples of Transgenic crops or GM crops are discussed below:
Pest Resistant Bt cotton: Worms and pests have always been one of the biggest enemies of farmers. A group of scientists decided to develop a plant that is resistant to the pest. Examples of pest-resistant plants are Bt cotton, Bt corn, rice, tomato, potato, soybean, etc. It was possible after bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt for short) was found. This bacterium affects certain insects such as lepidopterans (tobacco budworm, armyworm), coleopterans (beetles), and dipterans (flies, mosquitoes) in general. How does Bt kill worms:
1. Some strains of these bacteria possess a gene called cry and its variants like cryIAb, cryIAc, and cryIIAb.
2. These genes code for a protein crystal that enters the gut cells of larvae.
3. These protein crystals are protoxins or inactive toxins and require alkaline pH for activation.
4. Once the bacteria infect a larva and enter the gut epithelial cells, where the alkaline medium is readily available, the toxin becomes active and causes swellings in gut cells, ultimately destroying it.
The infection causes holes in the gut of larvae. As a result, the larva dies of infection and starvation.
Fig: Action of Bt
Fig: RNA Silencing by Creating dsRNA
Transgenic Tomato: Flavr Savr tomato was developed by gene manipulation to delay ripening and made it nutrient-rich. It saved thousands of farmers who used to suffer due to the fast ripening of tomatoes.
Golden rice: Vitamin A-rich golden rice was developed to meet the nutritional needs of the European and African populations.
Transgenic crops and biotechnology have been proven to be a boon. The techniques can be used to improve the quality, quantity and even help in the production of the resistant plant. Several successful plant varieties have been developed, like Bt cotton, which is pest resistant; golden rice is an example of a vitamin-rich plant. Every good thing has a price. Similarly, agricultural biotechnology comes with its own set of risks.
For example, some GM plants might cause allergies or other potential health risks. Continuous research is a requirement to remove the risk and enhance benefits. However, the Governments should inform the public about the nature of new crop types and new crop varieties and about the risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology in our own country and internationally.
Q.1. What does agriculture mean?
Ans: Agriculture is an age-old practice of cultivating plants or livestock on a large scale.
Q.2. What is the green revolution?
Ans: Green revolution refers to the great increase in crop production in the 1960s. It was achieved due to the efforts of scientists like Sir Norman Borlogue and Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.
Q.3. What are some of the examples of GM plants?
Ans: Some examples of Transgenic crop or GM crops are given below:
1. Bt cotton – Pest resistant (resistant to ball worms)
2. Flavr Savr tomato – Delayed ripening, rich nutrient
3. Golden rice- Rich in vitamin A
4. Potato- High protein content
5. C4 rice- Improved productivity, nutrient-rich
6. Bt corn, Bt brinjal- Insect resistant.
Q.4. What is the importance of agricultural biotechnology?
Ans: Agricultural biotechnology helps to enhance crop productivity by increasing quantity, quality, and resistance. It increases food security and provides better profits to farmers.
Q.5. What is biotechnology?
Ans: Biotechnology is a stream of science that exploits the technological aspect of the living system and utilizes this to develop or create different products to benefit humanity and the economy.
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