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Biotechnology in agriculture.

Byline: Abid Saeed

'Biotechnology' is a collective term, encompassing a number of technologies, some old, others new. Plant and animal breeding are examples of traditional biotechnological methods. Making of foods, such as, bread, cheese, and yogurt; and medicines such as vaccines and hormones, are known products of old biotechnological methodologies. Modern biotechnology involves the more precise ability to effect genetic changes to produce improved or even new traits and includes such new techniques as recombinant DNA and gene cloning collectively referred to as 'genetic engineering'.

'Biotechnology' has been defined as processes using living organisms or parts thereof to make or modify products; and to improve plants, animals, or microorganisms for specific uses. Traditional plant breeding techniques are limited by certain incompatibility barriers. Valuable traits such as tolerance to specific herbicides and nitrogen fixation do not exist in plants. Biotechnological methods allow to overcome these genetic incompatibility barriers. Agricultural biotechnology offers efficient and cost-effective means to produce a diverse array of novel, value-added products and tools. It has the potential to increase food production, reduce the dependency of agriculture on chemicals, and lower the cost of raw materials, all in an environmentally friendly manner.

The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways.

Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in financial loss for farmers. Farmers typically use huge quantity of chemical pesticides annually. Growing GM crops can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.

For some crops, farmers often spray large quantities of different herbicides to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process that requires care so that the herbicide doesn't harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed.

There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.

As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.

Agricultural biotechnology has a positive impact on farmers' well-being. Biotech crops enable farmers to benefit economically, and at the same time, allow farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable manner. With rising food prices and increasing global population, increased crop yields provided through agricultural biotechnology can provide important economic, social and environmental benefits.

In our agricultural driven economy, use of such technology can deliver higher crop yields which can boost incomes for our farmers and feed more people. This technology can enable farmers to increase their agricultural productivity and provide a higher quality crop, which, in turn, translates into higher incomes. This cycle ultimately leads to a more consistent food supply which can help our national economy.
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Publication:Pakistan Observer (Islamabad, Pakistan)
Date:Dec 6, 2018
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