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MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

The development of any country generally depends only on role played by the agriculture

By Dr. S. M. Alam
Nuclear Institute of Agriculture, Tando Jam
Oct 23 - Oct 29, 2000

Technology is a key factor in socio-economic development of a country. At the national level a country must be helped to find an optimum mix of activities to balance its multifaceted requirements in the field of technology, with measure of coherence to enable the achievement of concrete results. Technological advancements in the field of biotechnology have become too important in the global scene which should not be ignored by any developing country Experience has shown that developing countries needs assistance in becoming sensitized to the potential and application of such technology and in developing human resource capability to handle the inflow of such technology. The appropriateness of this technology is still a concept of particular relevance to developing country. However, it needs to be promoted together with the countries who have greater potential of this technology.

There is considerable debate in both the media and academic circles about the risks and benefits of modern agricultural biotechnology research. Most of this debate relates to the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crop varieties in the industrialized world. So far, very little attention has focused on the role that biotechnology might play in the developing countries, or how it might benefit poor farmers and consumers in those countries.

The development of any country generally depends only on role played by the agriculture, health and industry. Modern biological phenomena have helped in this development by giving a new technology which no doubt offers tremendous opportunities and ideas in solving the most exigent problems. It is the requirement of every country to solve the many human problems and such practice was going on since time immemorial. At present, the traditional ideas of biotechnology primarily manipulated micro-organisms and selection is thought to be the major force behind the production of desired traits. With the development in technology, it has become possible to manipulate genes for almost every character, resulting in the production of desired traits and at whatever scale a person desire. The new biotechnology uses the knowledge about the interior of a living cell. This knowledge makes things easier for users to direct and manipulate the products they make. Due to this development, it seems within reach of human endeavours to generate miracle drugs and fight against parasites and viral diseases, which heavily affects the developing countries. There is vast area of application of biotechnology in agriculture and it is unwrapping the many secret problems of not agriculture but, also of human health, medical and industry.

This technology by transferring genes into other body is used to achieve higher yields, more nutrients, better taste in cereals, higher sugar recovery in sugarcane, longer and stronger and finer fiber in cotton, more proteins in pulses, more oil in pulses, reduce in the demand of irrigation water, introduction of disease- free and; pest -resistant varieties, and varieties which can tolerate heat, cold, flood, drought, and adverse soil conditions etc. With increasingly refined techniques, more new and alien characteristics can be transmitted. Quantitatively, new combinations of genetic material are now possible. Through the improvement in this technique, now genes can be isolated from bacteria, viruses, fungi or other animals and are made to express without facing much difficulty in plants. The benefits provided by biotechnological methods and transgenic traits can significantly improve the world's ability to feed itself on land already in cultivation, by increasing per unit productivity, improving nutritional quality and reducing pre and post-harvest losses. Hence, crop improvement through biotechnology culture techniques will be an appropriate way to strengthen the agricultural sector as a meaningful preparation in the context of the 21st century.

Plant biotechnology is emerging as a commercial reality. There are more than 300 commercialized agricultural and environmental biotechnology products currently available compared to just 32 biotechnology drugs. Analysts say that biotechnology will allow the food industry to continue the century-old trend of low food prices, increasing productivity and less labour. Researches at DuPont and the University of Delaware have succeeded in producing transgenic canola and soybean seeds with substantially higher lysine content than in normal in these foods. The transgenic canola developed through this technique nearly doubled the proportion of lysine in total seed amino acids over standard canola. Biotechnological engineered cotton and canola seeds reached the market in 1995 and 1996 a wave of biotechnology crops, including the first insect- resistant cotton, corn and potatoes as well as herbicide-tolerant soybeans, cotton and canola are expected to become widely available to farmers. Monsanto a USA company predicts plant biotechnology will blossom into a 2 billion US dollars/year world-wide business by the year 2000 and a 6 billion US dollar/year market by 2005. Monsanto anticipates it will commercialized half-dozen transgenic crops over the next two years and is looking for profits through the sales of value-added seeds and increased sales of its herbicide and says it expects the genetically engineered products to be key to the future of its agricultural business.

Spurred by concern about serious food shortages predicted for 21st century Asia, scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have developed the first prototype breeding lines of for what they hope will be a high yielding rice of the future and they have named it as "Super Rice". The chief plant breeder at IRRI says that the new plant will increase harvests by as much as 25 per cent when farmers start growing it this year. IRRI scientists believe the new rice could boost annual yields by 100 million tons. That would reduce the IRRI projected gap between current production and future demand by about one third. IRRI scientists believe they have found at least a partial solution by cross-pollinating the highest yielding varieties IRRI created during the first Green Revolution over several generations totalling five years. Compared with IRRI's existing high-yielding rice varieties, the resulting "Super Rice" appears far less bushy each plant consists of only about 10 stems compared with 20 to 25. But all of the stems contain seed pods bearing 200 to 250 grains of rice, while only about 15 stems on other varieties of modern rice carry pods that bear about 100 grains. Thus, a single super rice plant will produce up to 2,500 grains of rice compared with a maximum of 1,500 grains from today's varieties. According to IRRI breeder, the super rice is also a more efficient plant. Thick, dark green and erect leaves catch more sunlight, boosting per leaf photosynthesis by 15 per cent. Because the plant makes more grain and less chaff, it produces more food per unit of fertilizer. And fewer excess stems mean farmers can grow plants closer together, increasing paddy yield.

Plant Biotechnology programmes have been vigorously going on in many countries of the world for the purpose of producing genetically engineered crops and also the uses of technique in medicine and industry etc. We can quote the names of a few countries such as USA, Canada, UK, France, Russia, China, India, Australia, European countries, Holland, Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil. New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan etc.

The agricultural Biotechnology programmes have some fears to the public because, of the ill-effects after its use. Time to time report publishes in the newspapers about the poisonous effects of genetically engineered crops. Recently, a report published in a newspaper saying that The French Government ordered the destruction of 46 hectares of soya crop after tests revealed that the seeds had been contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It was the second time this year that the French have moved against GMO-tainted crops and underlined the government's determination to limit the spread of such organisms. A statement signed by four ministers said the contaminated soya seed had been planted in fields in the far south of the country around the Bouches-du Rhone and Herault. The report further said that the seed contained between 0.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent of genetically modified material. It did not reveal which company has supplied the seed. France in May ordered the destruction of about 600 hectares of rapeseed containing traces of GMOs after seed company. Advanta seed company announced it had inadvertently sold imported seeds with traces of genetically modified material to farmers in Europe. However, officials decided last month that not to destroy thousands of hectares of maize planted with imported US seed that also contained traces of GMOs. The French government also announced that farmers affected by such order will be compensated. Last month the Russian government announced to ban the entry of genetically modified cereals crop in his country. Last year, in Pakistan a pulse Masoor dal was imported from Australia and there was a great resentment in the public about its taste and flavor which was harmful to the users and the people made hue and cry and thus, it was not imported again.

The work on agriculture side through biotechnology technique is rapidly increasing throughout the world and particularly in the industrialized countries. These countries are pushing the genetically engineered technique in the developing countries too. The following chart summarizes US Federal Department of Agriculture actions on commercialization of genetically engineered agricultural products as of December 1995. The chart shows an update commercialization of the engineered products coming to the markets throughout the world.