Biotechnology aims at protecting and improving yields, and preserving natural resources such as soil and water. Biotechnology enables agriculture to be more productive and efficient on existing arable land, helping prevent the conversion of further virgin land and its precious biodiversity to farmland.
Today’s farmers want crops to help solve their big “E” challenges: protecting the Environment, conserving Energy, improving the agricultural Economy, Enhancing crop benefits and improving crop Endurance in the face of disease, pests and weather. Biotech crops can help farmers do all of these things better, and are thus important enablers of sustainable agriculture.
The goal of both GM and conventional plant breeding is to produce crops with improved characteristics by changing their genetic makeup. GM achieves this by adding a new gene or genes to the genome of a crop plant. Conventional breeding achieves it by crossing together plants with relevant characteristics, and selecting the offspring with the desired combination of characteristics, as a result of particular combinations of genes inherited from the two parents.
Both conventional plant breeding and GM deliver genetic crop improvement. Genetic improvement has been a central pillar of improved agricultural productivity for thousands of years. This is because wild plants make very poor crops. Natural selection tends to favour plants that can compete with neighbouring plants for light, water and nutrients, defend themselves from being eaten and digested by animals, and disperse their seed over long distances. These characteristics are in direct conflict with the goals of agriculture, which require plants to invest as many of their resources as possible into making nutritious, easy to harvest products for human consumption. Because of the stark contrast between what natural selection has produced and what makes a good crop, for thousands of years we have used conventional breeding approaches to convert plants that compete well in the wild, to plants that perform well in agriculture. The result is our modern crop varieties, which are much higher yielding and more nutritious than their wild ancestors, but which compete poorly in the wild.
The improvement of crop species has been a basic pursuit since cultivation began thousands of years ago. Crop improvement refers to the genetic alteration of plants to satisfy human needs. Techniques include
Tissue culture is an important tool for the study of the biology of cells from multicellular organisms. It provides an in vitro model of the tissue in a well defined environment which can be easily manipulated and analysed. Plant tissue culture in particular is concerned with the growing of entire plants from small pieces of plant tissue, cultured in medium.
Animal improvement is a complex process which involves modification of the genotype and the environment in a harmonious fashion. Techniques of modern biology include:
Planting GM cotton has improved yields by 10–30%, pesticide usage has fallen 50–80% and profitability for small farmers has improved significantly. Pesticide poisonings have decreased by about 75% among farmers using GM cotton. Insect-resistant (Bt) maize has lower amounts of fumonisins than conventional maize because there is less insect damage to maize kernels on which the fungi can grow. .