Agricultural Biotechnology: What It Is, Which is Its Impact?

Agricultural biotechnology represents an assembling of scientific techniques meant to improve microorganisms, animals, and plants. In order to increase agricultural productivity, scientists have developed numerous solutions, relying on the understanding of DNA. Biotechnology has the ability to spot genes which may bring certain advantages for particular crops, and it can also work very precisely with these characteristics. Biotechnology improves the ability of breeders to make improvements in livestock and crops.

This technology can bring improvements for crops which would not be possible with the traditional crossing of related species alone. For over 10,000 years, farmers have used selection and breeding of desirable characteristics to improve wild plants and animals. The breeding process has resulted in the domesticated animals and plants which are currently used in livestock and crop agriculture.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, breeding grew to be a lot more sophisticated. The traits selected by the breeders features increased yield, pest, and diseases resistance, as well as modified flavor and drought resistance. These traits are passed on from a generation to the next one through genes that are made of DNA.

The use of agricultural biotechnology

Genetic engineering

Over the years, researchers have learned how to mutate organisms, moving genes from one to another. This process is known as genetic modification, genetic improvement or genetic engineering. The process permits the transfer of useful characteristics into a microorganism, animal or plant by inserting genes from another organism. All the crops which have been improved using this process are meant to help farmers increase crop productivity. The process reduces crop damage from insects, diseases, and weeds.

Molecular diagnostics

These methods can help detect gene products or genes which are very precise. Molecular diagnostics are used in agriculture to diagnose livestock or crop diseases.

Molecular markers

Traditional breeding involves the selection of animals and plants relying on measurable or visible traits. Specialists are able to use molecular markers to select animals or plants which feature a desirable gene by analyzing the DNA of an organism. The process can be successful even in the absence of a visible trait. Therefore, breeding grew to be more efficient and precise. Molecular markers can also be used identify undesirable genes which can be eliminated in future generations.

Tissue culture

This is in charge of the plants’ regeneration in the laboratory when it comes to disease-free plant parts. The tissue culture technique allows for the reproduction of disease-free planting material for crops. Some examples of crops produced via tissue culture include papaya, coffee, bananas, mangoes, avocados, pineapples, and citrus.

Vaccines

The vaccines derived from biotechnology are implemented for humans and livestock. These vaccines can be better, cheaper and safer compared to traditional vaccines. They are stable at room temperature and will not need refrigerated storage. This is very important for smallholders in tropical countries. Some of these new vaccines can offer protection for the first time against some infectious illnesses.

Someone's hand watering some small plants

The gene engineering process can make plants resistant to pests and insects.

How agricultural biotechnology impact the environment

In 1990 was the first time when the biotechnology technique was first used. Then, starting with 1995, farmers have been growing genetic engineering crops. In 2003, seven million farmers from 18 countries started planting biotech crops. Statistics show that about one-third of the global biotech crop area was produced in developing countries.

Even if climate change poses a great threat to agriculture, farmers around the world can practice earth-friendly farming due to agricultural biotechnology. The increased demands on natural resources and farmland also represent a challenge for today’s agriculture. Biotechnology can offer tools which provide solutions to many of the global environmental challenges we face today.

Hence, agricultural biotechnology benefits the environment by increasing production yields. In this way, reduces pressures to force more land into production, often highly erodible and marginal land. Another benefit is the use of biotech herbicide-tolerant crops which allow the use of no-till farming practices. Biotechnology limits carbon dioxide emissions reduce erosion and improves soil moisture content.

By using biotech crops, agricultural biotechnology will make use of fewer applications of pesticides. Hence, it will reduce on-farm energy consumption and several other associated environmental impacts. Furthermore, this technology reduces waste production from livestock feedlots. It is also in charge of diminishing concentrated animal agriculture operations through biotechnology-improved feed products and also biotech nutritional supplements for livestock.

More on agricultural biotechnology

A study from 2010 indicated that the population of the world is expected to reach 9 billion in the next two decades. Hence, fueling and feeding a developing planet would be pretty hard. This would require a 70% increase in agricultural productivity. In this way, biotechnology can help us boost production in an environmentally sustainable way.

The increased use of tillage techniques reduces water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion. Previous statistics show that the U.S. farm income benefits registered between 1996 and 2007 were estimated at $20 billion. This resulted from efficiency gains and enhanced productivity from agricultural biotechnology.

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Biotech varieties have significantly diminished farmers’ reliance on pesticide applications. Starting with 1997, the use of pesticides on global biotech crop acreage has reduced by 790 million pounds. This means an 8.8% reduction. Due to the existence of biotechnology, a small number of broad-spectrum compounds with diminished environmental impacts have replaced the more specialized herbicides.

Those who manufacture herbicide products offered farmers guidance on how to prevent the development of weed resistance to their herbicide products. Since farmers value these products, they implement the stewardship methods to make sure that they can continue to use the products effectively in the future.

Summing up

For humanity, it is essential to have a sufficient and safe food supply, growing in an environmentally responsible way. Agricultural biotechnology, just like any other technology, has social and economic impacts. Since its introduction, crops have been safely used, reducing the use of pesticides. Agricultural biotechnology represents only one factor among many others, influencing the welfare and health of citizens and farmers in the developing world.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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