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Genetic engineering

Genetically modified plants are created by the process of genetic engineering, which allows scientists to move genetic material between organisms with the aim of changing their characteristics. All organisms are composed of cells that contain the DNA molecule. Molecules of DNA form units of genetic information, known as genes. Each organism has a genetic blueprint made up of DNA that determines the regulatory functions of its cells and thus the characteristics that make it unique.

Genes

Prior to genetic engineering, the exchange of DNA material was possible only between individual organisms of the same species. With the advent of genetic engineering in 1972, scientists have been able to identify specific genes associated with desirable traits in one organism and transfer those genes across species boundaries into another organism. For example, a gene from bacteria, virus, or animal may be transferred into plants to produce genetically modified plants having changed characteristics. Thus, this method allows mixing of the genetic material among species that cannot otherwise breed naturally. The success of a genetically improved plant depends on the ability to grow single modified cells into whole plants. Some plants like potato and tomato grow easily from single cell or plant tissue. Others such as corn, soy bean, and wheat are more difficult to grow.

After years of research, plant specialists have been able to apply their knowledge of genetics to improve various crops such as corn, potato, and cotton. They have to be careful to ensure that the basic characteristics of these new plants are the same as the traditional ones, except for the addition of the improved traits.

The world of biotechnology has always moved fast, and now it is moving even faster. More traits are emerging; more land than ever before is being planted with genetically modified varieties of an ever-expanding number of crops. Research efforts are being made to genetically modify most plants with a high economic value such as cereals, fruits, vegetables, and floriculture and horticulture species.

Public concern

The potential of biotechnology as a method to enhance agricultural productivity in the future has been accepted globally.

Concern

However, because of its revolutionary nature, there is a great degree of risk and uncertainty attached to the process of genetic engineering and the resultant genetically modified products.

Risks are also associated with genetically modified plants that are released into the environment. The nature of interactions with other organisms of the natural ecosystems cannot be anticipated without proper scientific testing. For example, modified plants with enhanced resistance to pests or disease threaten to transfer resistance to the wild relatives. This may have implications for biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. These and other numerous doubts plague the minds of common people and the decision-makers.

Some of the many applications for which Plant Biotechnology is currently being used are

bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) developing plants that are resistant to diseases, pests, and stress
bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) keeping fruits and vegetables fresh for longer periods of time, which is extremely important in tropical countries
bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) producing plants that possess healthy fats and oils
bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) producing plants that have increased nutritive value
bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) producing soy beans with a higher expression of the anti-cancer proteins naturally found in soy beans
bullet_bio.gif (62 bytes) producing new substances in plants, including biodegradable plastics, and small proteins or peptides such as prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines.

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