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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Commercialized Biotechnology, Food for Thought

Author
item Baldwin, Elizabeth

Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 29, 2001
Publication Date: June 1, 2002
Citation: Baldwin, E.A. Commercialized biotechnology, food for thought. HortScience. 2002. v. 37. p. 446-447.

Interpretive Summary: Statistics indicate that the U.S. leads the world in approved biotech products followed by Canada, and Japan. Biotech acreage reached 50 million acres in the U.S. including 40% of cotton, 30% of soybeans and 20% of corn. Worldwide, 73 million acres are producing biotech crops as of 1999. This is important because, biotechnology becomes a factor in the projected global population increase and subsequent food shortage by virtue of anticipated increased yields. It could reduce the need to expand agriculture into marginal agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, forests, or rainforests to produce crops, since already the best agricultural lands around the world are in production. However, this is not the first time that a scientific advance relating to the food supply has been met with suspicion by consumers. Canned food, pasteurized milk, artificial insemination of farm animals, hormones in animal feed, microwave cooking, and irradiation of foods are some examples. The anticipated benefits of GMO foods include a more abundant and economical food supply, improvements in nutritional quality, improved shelf life for fresh fruits and vegetables, foods with reduced allergenicity, development of functional foods and vaccines, conversion of nonproductive toxic soils to productive arable land and more environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

Technical Abstract: In the 1970's the study of molecular biology charted a course leading to genetic engineering of plants in 1983 with the Ti plasmid of the soil bacteria, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This bacteria allowed the transfer of foreign DNA into the plant genome, using an antibiotic resistance marker for selection of transformed cells. After many technological breakthroughs, scientists were able to engineer resistance to plant viruses and insects due to expression of a variety of factors, including viral coat proteins and Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) Protein; tolerance to herbicides; control of fruit ripening and softening in tomatoes due to down regulation of cell wall enzymes or ethylene pathway enzymes; engineered male sterility and its restoration; and modified carbohydrate composition and altered oil composition. Plants resulting from this research have been commercialized to some extent. Biotech acreage reached 50 million acres in the U.S. including 40% of cotton, 30% of soybeans and 20% of corn. Worldwide, 73 million acres are producing biotech crops as of 1999. Some examples of GMO foods include a biotech rice that carries a gene from corn that imparts a higher rate of photosynthesis resulting in a 35% yield increase; transgenic acid- tolerant crops developed in Mexico predicted to increase crop yields by 50% in the tropics, thus saving some rainforests; and a golden rice that was engineered to contain betacarotene (precursor to vitamin A), which is predicted to alleviate vitamin A deficiency and related blindness in Asia.

Last Modified: 8/22/2014
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