Progress in developing genomic tools has been reflected in achievements in the field of biotechnology.
Some of the tools come under category of - omics – Metabolic Pathways - Systems Biology –Epigenetics – RNAi - Paramutation - Adaptive technology; Transgenomics.
Biotechnology allows the transfer of a gene for a specific trait from one plant variety or species to another, is one important piece of the puzzle of sustainable development. Experts assert that biotechnology innovations will triple crop yields without requiring any additional farmland, saving valuable rain forests and animal habitats.
Other innovations can reduce or eliminate reliance on pesticides and herbicides that might contribute to environmental degradation. Still others can preserve precious groundsoils and water resources.
The United Nations have projected:
• World Population will increase by 25% to 7.5 billion by 2020. On an average, an additional 73 million people are added annually, of which 97% will live in the developing world.
Experience in the developed world with transgenics in US and Canada has been highly successful. Four crops, Maize, Soybeans, Cotton and Canola, are widely grown. Biotech crops in 2006 covered an area of 102 Million hectares in 22 countries, which is an increase up to 13% from 1996 to 2006 and this is highest adoption rate of any crop technology globally. This has led to net economic benefits cumulative to $27 billion: pesticide spraying went down by 172 Million Kg, environmental footprint of pesticide use down by 14%; GM reduction in 9.4 billion kg of CO2 emissions in 2004, equivalent removing 5 Million cars from the roads; Herbicide-Tolerance; increase in no- till; reduction in erosion, soils healthier with organic matter; less soil compaction; fuel use down by 20 gals/acre and US GM-fed steak being more eco-friendly.
China BT rice pesticide use is down 80%: “Bt crops” fared better in field trials than those with insecticides (Marvier et al 2007). Blight-resistant potato for major potato-producing regions of the world would save be $4.3 billion.
Some of the Agronomic Traits getting attention include:
Biotic Stress; Insect Resistance – Bt, Disease Resistance: Viral- coat protein protection (Papaya ringspot virus) ; Bacterial, Fungal, Nematode (Rice blight, rice blast); Weed- herbicide tolerance (Striga, Orobanchia) .
ABiotic Stress: Drought, Cold, Heat, Poor soil; Salinity – tomatoes with transport protein; Aluminum -Citric acid .
Yield: Nitrogen assimilation – nodulation by Rhizobia, GDH metabolic engineering; Starch Biosynthesis, O2 Assimilation, photosynthesis/Rubisco; PEPcase gene transfer to rice from Maize;
Improving Quality Traits:
Processing, post harvest loss reduction, reproduction: sex barriers, male sterility, seedless fruit.
Nutrients (Nutraceuticals): Macro: Protein (Cassava-ASP), Carbohydrates, Fats, Fiber;Micro: vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals; Anti-nutrients: Phytase, Toxin removal,
Novel Crop Products: Proteins: nutraceuticals, therapeutics, vaccines
Renewable resources: Biomass conversion and biofuel production from lignocellulosic waste using genetically engineered organisms, feedstocks, biofuels, phytoremediation.
Some successful applications include
Bt Insect Resistance: the following crops are under commercial utilization.
• Brinjal (eggplant)
• Rice: China BT rice pesticide use down 80%: “Bt crops” fared better in field trials than those with insecticides.
• Cotton : (Area of BT cotton cultivation in India has increased from around 7 million ha in 2002-2003 to around 10 million ha in 2007-2008).
Other traits include:
• Vitamin A sorghum
• Golden Rice
• Fungal resistant banana
Some of the genomic tools over the last century developed include: Cultivation; Selective Cross breeding; Cell culture; Somaclonal variation; Embryo rescue; Mutagenesis and selection; Anther culture ; Recombinant DNA ; Marker assisted selection; -omics – Bioinformatics; Systems Biology; Epigenetics/RNAi/Paramutation; Adaptive technology/transgenomics etc.
Plants as Factories are becoming a reality, with respect to production of Pharmaceuticals/ Industrial products (Ventria – Rice Lactoferin Lysozyme Peru 30% Less Diarrhea, Quicker recovery 3/6 days, 1/3 less recurrence).
The future of biotechnology lies in refinement of genomic tools:
Advances in sequencing and genome analysis and in the associated information technology will accelerate the discovery and characterization of genes having potential utility.
Microarrays representing thousands of individual genes allow very high throughput analysis of genes and gene expression patterns will facilitate identification and genetic transfer of significant traits from one crop species to the other in a regulated fashion which is major difference between conventional breeding and biotechnology.
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