Role of Biotechnology in Agricultural Production

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The development of new food sources has the potential to optimize the usage of agricultural raw materials.  Biotechnology is improving biological systems for the processing of various products.
The primary usage of biotechnology in agriculture is for improving quality of plants using plant tissue culture and genetic engineering. Some of the most important roles of biotechnology in agricultural production are as follows:
  • To improve crop yield,
  • To increase the nutrient value
  • Increase resistance to diseases, pesticides and drought conditions.

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Similarly, biotechnology is creating many new opportunities for the food processing industry. The biotechnological methods have helped in the reduction of amount unhealthy ingredients in food. It has also reduced allergenic substances. 
Genomic research and targeted breeding ease progress in agriculture. Biotechnology contributes significantly to saving resources, optimizing harvest yields and producing better foods.

What is Agricultural Biotechnology?

Agricultural biotechnology is an area of agriculture that involves the use of a variety of scientific tools and techniques to improve living organisms: plants, animals, and microorganisms for specific agricultural uses. It is also referred to as Agritech. 
Modern use of biotechnology in agriculture includes the tools of genetic engineering. It also includes molecular diagnostics and markers, tissue culture and vaccines.
Crop biotechnology is one of the main aspects of agricultural biotechnology. Over recent times, it has gained a lot of traction in recent times. It involves the export of desired traits and features from a particular species of the crop to a different species. These transgenic crops have desirable characteristics many factors. These factors can be the flavor as well as colour of flowers. The factors also include growth rate, size of harvested products and resistance to diseases and pests.

Benefits of Biotechnology in Agricultural – Few Examples

The application of biotechnology in agriculture has provided several benefits to farmers, consumers, as well as producers. Biotechnology has made both insect pest control and weed management safer while safeguarding crops against diseases.

For example: Genetically engineered rice is being grown extensively, in order to increase the content of Vitamin A. Genetically engineered insect-resistant cotton is another good example that has allowed a significant reduction in the use of persistent. Synthetic pesticides are unsafe as they may contaminate groundwater and the environment.

Improved weed control is another good example of agriculture in biotechnology. Herbicide-tolerant cotton, soybeans, and corn are grown using reduced-risk herbicides that are env friendly, break down more quickly in soil and are non-toxic to wildlife creatures. Herbicide-tolerant crops are so engineered that they are compatible with reduced-tillage agriculture systems that help preserve topsoil from erosion.

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In addition, agricultural biotechnology is being used to protect crops from devastating diseases. The papaya ringspot virus had threatened the Hawaiian papaya industry recently. It was only then that papayas resistant to the disease were developed through genetic engineering, thus saving the US papaya industry. 

Similarly, agricultural biotechnology has helped to grow crops like potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and other crops which were resistant to viral diseases  – that otherwise are very difficult to control.

Scientifically proven, biotech crops have made farming more profitable by increasing crop yield and crop quality. Crops like these allow farmers to spend less of their time managing their crops and more quality time on other profitable activities.

1 Biotechnology in Agricultural Benefits the Environment

Biotechnology is playing a crucial role in protecting the environment. Scientists are continuously finding new ways to improve the process of food production to become more environmentally friendly. 

For instance, certain biotech foods are designed to be resistant to diseases and pests. Thus allowing farmers to use fewer chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, while still maintaining a high-yielding, healthy crop.  

Besides, the reduction in chemical usage is beneficial for wildlife. It is also beneficial for those consumers who may worry about ingesting chemicals when they eat fruits and vegetables.

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Since less tilling, ploughing, and weed control is required and many are modified to be inherently resistant to herbicides, it makes sense to use biotech crops. 

Biotech crops require less tillage, thus conserving water and limiting soil erosion which results in healthier soil. All these benefits aid in maximizing crop yields and minimizing water usage. 

2 Biotechnology in Agricultural Benefits the Farmer

Agricultural biotechnology has shown a positive impact on farmers’ well-being in both developed and developing countries.  Biotech crops are not only economically but allow farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable manner. With the worldwide rise in food prices, increased crop yields provided through agricultural biotechnology provide important social, economic, and environmental benefits.  

A 2005 study found that biotech plants improved to resist insects and herbicides helped farmers reduce their annual production costs by more than $1.4 billion. This has resulted in an increase in net profits of more than $2 billion.  

Biotech crop varieties are designed to thrive under harsh conditions, providing direct benefits to farmers. They can grow under severe heat or cold, flood or drought, and soils with high levels of salt or metals. These biotech crops help farmers to experience a decreased rate of crop losses during such adverse situations. 

In developing nations, one-half of the labor force is employed in the agricultural sector.  Higher crop yields are beneficial as they can boost incomes for poor farmers and feed more population in these countries. 

Biotech seeds increase the farmer’s agricultural productivity and help produce high quality crops, which, in turn, can translate into higher incomes. Ultimately consistent food supply helps to stimulate the local economy in the long run.

3 Biotechnology in Agricultural Provides Benefits for Consumers

There are two fold benefits for the consumers, when biotechnology in agriculture is applied. 

Firstly, by aiding in growing more food on less land and secondly, through new nutritionally enhanced foods. The products in development are being engineered to confer nutritional benefits, such as the new “Golden Rice” which contains added beta-carotene and iron.

This nutritionally improved rice is designed to combat the world’s leading cause of blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. 

Uganda’s Banana 21 project involves genetically modifying bananas to contain vitamin A and iron. This project has been earmarked as a solution to combat the deficiency of micronutrients in African countries. 

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Efforts are being made to create soy and peanuts with fewer allergens. Papaya trees have been genetically modified in order to be more tolerant of hot and cold climatic conditions.

These second-generation foods hold the promise to provide consumers with better products. These products stay fresh longer, contain fewer allergens, and have higher levels of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, while still having the first generation growing traits, which give rise to hardy, high-yield crops.

Advantages of Biotechnology in Food Processing

Scientists have been using biotechnology in food processing extensively to find unwanted viruses and bacteria that may be present in food. This lowers the risk of food-borne diseases. Biotechnology has been successfully used in the case of corn crops when it was discovered that some variants of fungus found in corn released substances harmful for human beings.

Biotechnology in food processing not only improves the nutritional value of food but also helps create new types of food combinations. These new varieties could be used on farms to fight and resist herbicides against bacteria and virus attack. The addition of specific enzymes that stop biological degradation processes in food can prolong the shelf-life of food, thereby decreasing sales losses as well as the quantity of waste. 

Biotechnology Tools Used for Food Preservation

Recombinant Antifreeze Protein (rAFP):  Antifreeze proteins are potent cryogenic protection agents for the cryopreservation of food and pharmaceutical materials. A food assessment expression and fermentation system for the production and secretion of high levels of rAFP was developed. Lyophilized, crude rAFP produced by L. lactis was tested in a frozen meat and frozen dough processing model. Frozen dough treated with the rAFP showed better fermentation capacity than untreated frozen dough. Breads baked from frozen dough treated with rAFP acquired the same consumer acceptance as fresh bread. 

High Pressure Processing:  In this non-thermal technique, high pressure is applied to inhibit bacterial growth. In this technique, texture, taste, nutrition and mineral quality of food is not disturbed. The method is safe for both liquid as well as for solid products.

Hurdles Technology: This is a combination of various preservative methods like use of low temperature for storage, high temperature in processing, low water activity, increasing acidity, reducing redox potential and the presence of different preservatives. These favor the growth of desirable bacteria and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

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Chelating agents: Chelating agents helps bacteriocins protein to prevent microbial growth. The complex protein added during food processing is called bacteriocins. These proteins are active against food spoilage microbes.

Fermentation Culture: Enzymes convert complex material into simple substances by the technique of fermentation. The production of lactic acid takes place during fermentation. This reduces the pH of the medium. The biological growth is prevented in the medium as there is low water activity and the medium is acidic nature. This ensures the prolonged preservation of food.

Radiation Process: The food products exposed under the ϒ-radiation having frequency 0.1-0.5 kGy undergo metabolic changes, thereby increasing the shelf life.

Future of Biotech Food

The world’s growing population and the increasing demand for healthy food pose challenging issues for the food industry. In such a scenario, biotechnology can contribute enormously to the production of nutritious food and has shown its advantages in the food sector. 

Over the years, attitudes towards biotechnology in agriculture and food processing foods have gradually become more favourable. This is due to the fact that more and more people realize that biotechnology in agriculture offers a lot of environmental, economic, and nutritional benefits. 

No doubt, there has been occasional reluctance as well as protests from certain environmental activists. But, the exponentially rising food and biofuel demands globally has allowed the broader acceptance of biotech foods in the marketplace. 

Any stigmas related to biotechnology will decrease when more and more biotechnological products get approved for sale. Consumers will reap most of the rewards of these enhanced crops and foods with the increase in awareness of biotechnology. 

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