The history of agriculture is one of frequent, deliberate improvements to the food we grow, and biotech crops are one of the latest examples. Biotechnology, also known as genetic engineering or a genetically modified organism (GMO), allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, or make a change to an existing trait in a plant being developed. Biotechnology has enormous potential to help us feed a rapidly growing global population and there are no shortage of challenges that biotech solutions can help address: drought, salinization of water supplies, low yields in certain target crops, viruses, diseases, and much more.
With human innovation, many modern versions of popular crops are easier to grow, more resistant to diseases, healthier, and tastier than before. The chief advantage of biotechnology is that it enables exact enhancements to our food with greater precision and efficiency. In the example of Arctic® apples, Okanagan Specialty Fruits® has used biotechnology to silence the enzyme that turns apples brown resulting in the reduction of unnecessary food waste.
From 1996-2018, productivity gained through biotechnology saved 231 million hectares of land from plowing and cultivation, while crop productivity increased by 822 million tons.
Global economic gains contributed by biotech crops in the last 23 years have amounted to US$224.9 billion economic benefits to more than 16 million farmers. 95% of these farmers come from developing countries, helping alleviate poverty and hunger.
Biotech crops have saved 776 million kg. a.i. of pesticides from being released into the environment.
In 2018, CO2 emissions were reduced to the equivalency of taking 15.3 million cars off the road for one year! (According to the 2019 ISAAA Brief)
Questions About Agricultural Biotechnology?
Biotechnology is a complex topic which can lead to a great deal of public confusion and misinformation. There are many notable biotechnology organizations and regulators that provide resources for evidence-based information on the safety and benefits of agricultural biotechnology and that can answer any questions you may have.
There are already a number of biotech crops on the market today that have been developed with the help of RNA interference (RNAi), which is one of the most cutting-edge biotech techniques currently being utilized.
In brief, RNAi is a biological process in which the expression of specific genetic information can be inhibited through exposure to certain dsRNA (double stranded RNA) molecules.
Whole genome sequencing is a process that allows scientists to determine the complete DNA sequence of organisms and has tremendous applications throughout biology.
The ability to identify the full genomes of organisms far more quickly and efficiently than ever before means that we can better understand which gene sequences serve which functions and how they do so.
Genome editing tools hold perhaps the most ground-breaking potential of all the new biotech techniques. This type of genetic engineering involves DNA being changed through the use of nucleases that function as "molecular scissors" to harness an inherent mechanism in cells that facilitates the alteration.
DNA editing tools like this may be especially useful in helping to develop new traits for proof of concept testing more quickly and efficiently than ever before.