The Role of Biotechnology in Food Production

One of the major concerns in agriculture today is how to meet the demands of a growing world population. By the year 2050 the World’s population is expected to reach 9 billion people. The World’s population has grown from 1.5 million to 7 million people in the last 120 years. We must be concerned in not only growing enough food, but also providing higher nutritional quality food and getting the right food to the right people. In the underdeveloped areas of the World it is estimated that there are still millions who are starving or malnourished. In contrast, in rapidly developing countries, as the population becomes more prosperous we see a greater amount of protein, beef and chicken consumed. Both of these circumstances will put a greater demand on our ability to produce enough nutritious food to feed the World.

For thousands of year’s farmers having been breeding plants and animals to produce offspring that are able to yield more than the previous generation (parents), this is known as heterosis or hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is commonly associated with animal production as farmers and ranchers will cross breed their cattle, hogs and chickens to produce more meat, milk, eggs, improve fertility of male and female breeding stock etc. The theory of hybrid vigor is used every day by plant and animal breeders and geneticists to improve and select for desirable traits in the next generation. Achieving the desired traits in the offspring through traditional plant and animal breeding is labour intensive and time consuming. It can take years and years of selective breeding, and involves many genes, both desirable and undesirable, from both parent organisms.

Through the use of biotechnology in modern agriculture, scientists are able to isolate only the desired gene at a nuclear level and select for the desired traits through the use of very few genes, thus achieving the desired results much more rapidly than traditional breeding.

Plant biotechnology is being used in the enrichment of foods with vitamins, iron, zinc and high quality protein. An example of this is the production of Golden Rice, a variety of rice developed through genetic modification that will synthesize beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, to help combat blindness in malnourished children in third world countries. Biotechnology is also used in the development of glyphosate resistant crops, disease resistant crops and crop with integrated insect resistance. This can allow for less pesticide dependence, and less potential risk to the environment from the over use or mis-use of Agricultural pesticides.

Biotechnology and modern agriculture can aid farmers in meeting the growing world food demands by allowing farmers to have access to higher yielding crop and animal genetics, crop varieties with built in disease and insect defences, crop varieties that are better able to withstand biotic and abiotic stressors, reduced production costs. Biotechnology will provide consumers with foods that are vitamin and nutrient rich, and that can be produced in quantities needed to meet global food demands.

References:

Datta A. 2013. Genetic engineering for improving quality and productivity of crops. Agriculture and Food Security. 2:15.

“Regulating Agricultural Biotechnology in Canada: An Overview.” Government of Canada,Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Wieczorek A. 2003. Use of bio-technology in agriculture- benefits and risks. Biotechnology. 3:1-6.