facebook twitter

What is plant biotechnology?

Plant biotechnology is a sophisticated breeding technology that allows plant breeders to precisely introduce beneficial traits into plants. Biotech crops approved for use today have been improved to help farmers tackle insects, disease and weeds in their fields and in the future could offer foods with higher vitamin levels, longer shelf life or the ability to grow even in the face of climate change.

It is the process of copying a gene for a desired trait (such as insect resistance) from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. Methods for achieving this are continually evolving, but one of the most common ways is:

Identification

Identify the gene or genetic material that will make the plant more nutritious, heartier or less susceptible to diseases or pests.

Transferring

There are several methods of gene transfer into plants. One of them is use of agrobacterium, a natural occurring bacteria discovered over 100 years ago, to pass on genes to plants. The agrobacterium acts like an automobile, carrying its passengers (the genes) into the seed, where they integrate into a precise area of the plant’s genetic material.

Once the genes carrying the beneficial traits have been identified, the next step is to insert them into the plant.

Modern genetic researchers use a revolutionary technique developed by Marc Van Montagu of the University of Ghent. Montagu’s method utilizes agrobacterium, natural bacteria that can pass on genes to plants. The agrobacterium acts like an automobile, with the genes as its passengers. The genes are attached to the agrobacterium and carried into the seed, where they integrate with the rest of the plant’s genetic material.

This technique, known as horizontal gene transfer, is a natural evolution from the plant breeding pioneered by Mendel and other researchers. Mendel’s breeding techniques were often imprecise, with thousands of genes transferred in each experiment. Modern plant biotechnology, however, can achieve precise transfers of as small as a single gene.

Planting

The new seed is then tested for safety, reliability and effectiveness. Once it receives approval by regulators, farmers are able to plant and reap the benefits of this new technology.

After planting in the lab, biotech seedlings are moved to greenhouses, where further tests will be performed in a controlled environment.

To ensure a biotech seed offers maximum farm benefits and that there are no unintended effects, hundreds of thousands of plants will be grown and studied over several years. Only after rigorous tests for the safety and reliability of the biotech trait are complete, will the top performing plants be selected to produce the crop that will be made available to farmers around the world.

The evolution of crop science

Plant biotechnology is just the latest evolution in mankind’s never-ending quest to improve how we produce an abundant and safe food supply. Just as our farmer ancestors chose their best plants to produce the next year’s crops, traits in today’s biotech seeds enable farmers to produce better harvests on less land than ever before, all while protecting the environment around us.

Continued research and the application of biotechnology will be essential in developing varieties of seeds that can not only survive but also maintain high yields in harsher environments. This is even more critical as our warming world experiences more frequent droughts, floods and higher temperatures.

Future biotech traits that enable crops to thrive in drought conditions or provide greater nutrition to children offer agriculture powerful tools with which to face these coming challenges.

Ten thousand years ago, the earliest farmers, living in the Fertile Crescent of countries surrounding the Nile River, the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, worked to find the seeds that grew the hardiest crop. They discovered some seed types from the wild grains produced more plentiful harvests. They began selecting these types (today we call them varieties) and began cultivating them every season which ultimately led to the establishment of thriving stable communities, ending the nomadic lifestyle which was previously driven by a search for food.

Over the past 150 years, researchers have built on the earliest farmers’ knowledge to better understand the importance of plant genetics to develop stronger and more vibrant crops.

By identifying crops with desired traits such as better nutritional characteristics or greater tolerance to drought and using selective breeding, they have developed improved plants that are healthier, more resilient, and capable of producing greater yields.

Into the Field

The development phase of a biotech crop is lengthy, but produces significant benefits for farmers once complete. Over the past 17 years, tens of millions of farmers in approximately 30 countries worldwide have grown 1.7 billion hectares of biotech crops. The crops have enabled these millions of growers to improve their incomes and help meet rising food demand as populations grow. This has resulted in improved farms, families and rural communities, all while protecting our natural environment.

Time, money and care

Each year, millions of farmers around the world plant biotech crops for higher yields, improved crop quality and the ability to use sustainable farming practices such as no-till. However, bringing these innovative new traits from the lab to the field requires a tremendous investment of time and resources.

On average, it takes more than 13 years and $136 million dollars to bring a biotech crop to market, with the majority of time and resources spent meeting regulatory requirements of government agencies. Ensuring regulations are clear, predictable and efficient is essential for farmers to receive the benefits of biotech crops in time to meet the growing challenges agriculture faces.

Sophisticated seeds for our changing world

Plant biotechnology is just the latest evolution in mankind’s never-ending quest to improve how we produce an abundant and safe food supply. Just as our farmer ancestors chose their best plants to produce the next year’s crops, traits in today’s biotech seeds enable farmers to produce better harvests on less land than ever before, all while protecting the environment around us.

Continued research and the application of biotechnology will be essential in developing varieties of seeds that can not only survive but also maintain high yields in harsher environments. This is even more critical as our warming world experiences more frequent droughts, floods and higher temperatures.

Future biotech traits that enable crops to thrive in drought conditions or provide greater nutrition to children offer agriculture powerful tools with which to face these coming challenges.

BENEFITS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS

Insect resistance and herbicide resistance have been the most common trait. Adoption of Bt crops has been very rapid and attests to their popularity with farmers, who are the primary beneficiaries of their value. For the first time in 2012 and continuing in 2013, developing countries planted more hectares of GM crops than industrialized countries (James, 2013). Herbicide tolerance was the most widely used trait, but insect-resistant GM crops containing Bt proteins were planted on 76 million hectares in 2013, with most of that being maize and cotton. Almost 60% of Bt acreage was planted with stacked traits that include Bt with herbicide tolerance. It is noteworthy that Bt maize (MON810) is grown in five EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) and in 2013 four insect-resistant Bt brinjal (eggplant) varieties were approved for seed production and initial commercialization in Bangladesh. The start of limited cultivation of Bt brinjal began in 2014. Brinjal suffers considerable insect damage and as a result the adoption of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh is expected to improve the incomes of thousands of small-holder farmers and consumers in that country, as well as to reduce exposures to chemical insecticides and pesticide poisonings in the areas that adopt the technology.

Rainbow papaya with built-in protection against a devastating plant virus saved the $17 million U.S. Hawaiian papaya industry from collapse. Today, Hawaii’s papaya farmers are flourishing as a result of biotech papaya.

Vitamin A-rich bananas with six times the normal level of nutrients could one day benefit 52% of Ugandan children under age five whose health suffers from Vitamin A deficiencies.

Golden rice, which boasts high amounts of beta-carotene and iron, is expected to significantly reduce Vitamin A deficiency in developing regions, which is responsible for 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness and up to 2 million deaths each year.

In a nutshell, the benefits of biotech crops are

DELIVERING MORE EFFECTIVE PLANT BREEDING METHODS

Biotechnology provides precise tools that enable plant breeders to effectively develop crops that help meet the growing demands of our world.

CONTROLLING YIELD-ROBBING PESTS

Farmers control weeds and insects with the help of biotechnology to help achieve a successful harvest of safe, affordable and abundant food.

CONFIRMING SAFETY

Health authorities, scientific experts and government organizations overwhelmingly endorse biotech crop safety.

INCREASING ADOPTION

Biotech crops are grown worldwide, and have been one of the fastest-adopted crop technologies in the history of agriculture.

BENEFITING OUR WORLD

Plant biotechnology helps our world grow by contributing to progress in rural communities, feeding a growing population, and looking after our planet.

IMPACTING OUR DAILY LIVES

We benefit from plant biotechnology from morning until night _ from the food we put on our kitchen table, to the fuel we put in our cars, to the fibers that make your favorite shirt.

GROUNDBREAKING PUBLIC SECTOR RESEARCH

Public sector organizations are developing groundbreaking biotech innovations that can help tackle climate change, fight malnutrition in developing regions, improve food security and more.

EXCITING FUTURE INNOVATIONS

Biotech seeds now being developed will help farmers better weather climate change and provide consumers worldwide with solutions to fight malnutrition and health issues.

Join Our Newsletter

Keep up to date on the latest industry news.

FAQs