The scientific rules of genetics were not known until the nineteenth century, when Gregor Mendel determined from his study of plants that particles that can not be seen carry traits that are passed on from generation to generation. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick made the makeup of the genetic code called deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the genetic material that is in all living cells. Deoxyribonucleic acid encodes the order of amino acids that have peptides and proteins.
In the 1970s, researchers started experimenting with the transfer of a specific part of DNA from one organism to another, letting the other organism make a new protein and make a new trait. This scientific breakthrough led to the progress of biotechnology or genetic engineering, as we know it today. It is very clear that the use of biotechnology in agriculture will have great implications for agriculture, the environment, and the economy around the world. It is already making an impact on the world’s food supply. Some of the first genetically improved products have included major food crops, such as soybeans and corn, as well as cotton.
These genetic changes help plants protect themselves against insects or make them tolerant to herbicides that are used to control weeds. The economic benefits for farmers have been seen, and data is proving that genetically improved crops make the environment better by reducing the use of insecticides and herbicides. Scientists are working on more products that will include direct consumer benefits, such as increased levels of vitamins in fruits and vegetables, improved amino acid or fatty acid, or improved texture and taste.
The first genetically improved crop was a tomato, approved for commercial sale in the United States in 1994. Calgene, a biotechnology company in California, engineered tomatoes so that the enzyme that degrades pectin and makes the tomato soft is took out. This lets tomatoes develop a vine-ripened aroma and flavor and remain firm longer than normal tomatoes. One advantage of plant biotechnology is that it is possible to transfer only the gene or genes of the trait the person wants into new plants in a more accurate manner within a short period of time.
Plant biotechnology also lets the transfer of genes from organisms that are not plants, such as bacteria, to plants, as well as between plants that are not compatible. For example, genes from soil bacteria have been put into a number of crop plants to let them protect themselves against insects. . By using biotechnology, you can make a stronger strain of the same substance. You can also give better nutrition to and flavor to foods and give it the ability to fight off pest and diseases.
Biotechnology is able to cut off a certain gene in one organism, take it out, and then put it in another organism. In research laboratories, certain strains of bacteria are being made to degrade oil spills, manufacture alcohol, help the disposal of waste, and help make medicine. A lack of information about biotechnology has led to confusion and fear about products made by using biotechnology. It is important to understand what biotechnology is and how it can be used to create solutions for tomorrow’s world.
Nutrition professionals are in a important position to explain to consumers the way biotechnology works, the risks and benefits, and the regulatory processes in place to assure the food, feed, and environmental safety of these crops and products. Biotechnology is providing real answers to some of the greatest challenges we face in this new century, such as hunger and malnutrition, as well as more effective ways to prevent diseases and treat serious illnesses. Biotechnology is an available and exciting new development, which is already improving the way we live.