May 11 - 17, 2009


Biotechnology is one of the recently emerging sciences that developed very quickly in different fields affecting human life. It shows a huge potential in helping humanity solve problems that are difficult to deal with by using traditional methods. This science has passed the period of academic study and has reached the phase of practical application on a large scale. It has considerable potential for promoting the efficiency of crop improvement, food production, and poverty reduction.

Agriculture plays an important role in the national economy of Pakistan, where most of the rapidly increasing population resides in rural areas and depends on agriculture for subsistence. Any improvement in agriculture will not only help the country's economic growth to rise at a faster rate but will also benefit a large segment of the country's population. The agriculture sector has grown at an average rate of 4.5% per annum during the 1990s. The growth, however, has fluctuated widely, rising by as high as 11.7% and declining by 5.3%. The total population as estimated on July 1, 2007, is 157 million people. Out of the country's total geographic area of 79.61 million ha, only about 22.27 million ha are cultivated.

Biotechnology is making it possible for researchers and developers to deliver products that help farmers protect their crops and improve the economy and environment while they grow grains that improve the quality of the food we eat.

In agriculture, biotechnology has been applied in different fields, including the production of genetically modified (GM) crops. Biotechnology has considerable potential for promoting the efficiency of crop improvement, food production, and poverty reduction, especially in developing countries like Pakistan.

Use of modern biotechnology started in Pakistan since 1985. The importance of the vast potential of agricultural biotechnology was formally recognized in 1981 when the first training course on recombinant DNA technology was organized at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, one of the 3 agricultural centers of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). This workshop recommended the establishment of an exclusive National Center of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering.


Biotechnology research has been carried out at many of the research centers in Pakistan but the excellent biotechnology research facilities and trained work force are available at a few centers, which have appropriate physical facilities and trained workers to develop genetically modified (GM) crops. Although these centers have some of the scientific capabilities needed to use biotechnological tools, the research efforts are comparatively small. Most of the centers still lack a sufficient number of researchers and adequate financial resources to mount large-scale research programs.

Presently, there are 29 government institutes and universities working in the field of biotechnology. Modern biotechnology research is restricted to only a few of the major centers, like National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) and Center of Excellence on Molecular Biology (CEMB). The exclusive CEMB was established in 1983-1984 at the University of Punjab, Lahore. In 1986, the Government of Pakistan approved the building of the NIBGE in Faisalabad. There are now more than 300 scientists working in 29 research centers conducting biotechnology research on various aspects of different crops, and about US $17 million has been invested by the government in biotechnology research and development during the last 3-4 years.

Most of the activities have been on rice and cotton, which are among the top five crops of Pakistan. Biotic (virus/bacterial/insect) and abiotic (salt) resistant and quality (male sterility) genes have already been incorporated in some crop plants. Although the first genetically modified (GM) plant, an antibiotic-resistant tobacco, was developed in 1983, but the growth of crops derived through agricultural biotechnology has exploded since introduction of the first major GM crop in 1996. Monsanto launched the first major genetically modified crop in 1996 with Roundup Ready soybeans (glyphosphate-tolerant). Since then the global market for GM/transgenic crop products grew rapidly from 1995 to 1999.

The major crops grown are wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, and maize. Gram and other pulses, oil seeds, and fodder crops are also grown in different parts of the country on sizeable areas. In Pakistan, the average yields of crops, despite rapid increase in the Green Revolution era, are still low when compared to other countries.

A large gap exists between the potential and realized yield for almost all the major crops. With a few exceptions, the average yield of most of the crops is either stagnant or has even declined during the last decade, while input costs and amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. continued to increase.


Green Revolution usually refers to the transformation of agriculture. In 1943, Mexican government requested to establish an agricultural research station to develop more varieties of wheat that could be used to feed the rapidly growing population of the country. These programs were instigated and largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, along with the Ford Foundation and among other major agencies.

The Office of Special Studies in Mexico became an informal international research institution in 1959, and in 1963, it formally became International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. In 1970, foundation officials proposed a worldwide network of agricultural research centers under a permanent secretariat. This was further supported and developed by the World Bank. On May 19, 1971, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research was established, cosponsored by the FAO, IFAD, and UNDP.

Many agronomists state that the Green Revolution has allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth while others state that it caused the great population increases seen today. The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, making it a popular topic of study among sociologists.

In 1961, the Ford Foundation and Indian government collaborated to import wheat seed from CIMMYT. Punjab was selected by the Indian government to be the first site to try the new crops because of its reliable water supply and a history of agricultural success.


The projects within the Green Revolution spread technologies that had already existed, but had not been widely used outside industrialized nations. These technologies included pesticides, irrigation projects, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and improved crop varieties developed through the conventional, science-based methods available at the time.

The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of what some referred to as "miracle seeds". Agronomists bred cultivars of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as HYVs or "high-yielding varieties". HYVs have higher nitrogen-absorbing potential than other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge, or fall over before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. HYVs significantly outperform traditional varieties in the presence of adequate irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers. In the absence of these inputs, traditional varieties may outperform HYVs.

IR8, the first widely implemented HYV rice to be developed by IRRI, was created through a cross between an Indonesian variety named "Peta" and a Chinese variety named "Dee-geo-woo-gen. This was 10 times the yield of traditional rice. IR8 was a success throughout Asia, and dubbed the "Miracle Rice". India soon adopted IR8 - a semi-dwarf rice variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown with proper fertilizer and irrigation. In the 1960s, rice yields in India were about two tons per hectare by the mid-1990s. They had risen to six tons per hectare. In the 1970s, rice cost about $550 a ton in 2001. It cost under $200 a ton. India became one of the world's most successful rice producers, and is now a major rice exporter, shipped nearly 4.5 million tons in 2006.


Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations between the years 1961 1985. Yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily during that period. The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.

Although the Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides but the comparison between traditional systems of agriculture and Green Revolution agriculture has been unfair, because Green Revolution agriculture produces monocultures of cereal grains, while traditional agriculture usually incorporates polycultures. These monoculture crops are often used for export, feed for animals, or conversion into bio-fuel.


The increased level of mechanization on larger farms made possible by the Green Revolution removed a large source of employment from the rural economy. In the most basic sense, the Green Revolution was a product of globalization as evidenced in the creation of international agricultural research centers that shared information, and with transnational funding from groups like the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Additionally, the inputs required in Green Revolution agriculture created new markets for seed and chemical corporations, many of which were based in the United States. For example, Standard Oil of New Jersey established hundreds of distributors in the Philippines to sell agricultural packages composed of HYV seed, fertilizer, and pesticides.

The agricultural production system in the country can operate on sound scientific and stable bases only if farm technology is kept in tune with the changing environmental and socio-economic conditions through an efficient and dynamic agricultural research system (ARS).


The world population has topped 6 billion people and it 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.

Pest resistance: Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing GM foods such as Bt-cotton and Bt-corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market. Pakistani farmers spend billions of rupees on pesticides and fertilizers each year. But, by saving costs of fertilizers and pesticides this technology can improve the quality of our farmer life style and the environment.

Herbicide tolerance: For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process that requires care so that the herbicide does not harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed.

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

Cold tolerance: Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold-water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco, potato, and strawberries. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings

Drought/salinity tolerance: As the world's population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers 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 help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places. Hence, GM is one method to address our current drought situation, which has a declined growth rate of our agriculture sector from 6 per cent to - 2 per cent in the year 2000-01, while it has rigorously affected our GDP, by bringing it to 2.5 percent this year.

Nutrition malnutrition: It is common in Third World countries, such as Pakistan, to find impoverished people relying on a single crop such as rice, wheat for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of "golden" rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). Since Rockefeller Foundation, a non-profit organization, funding this rice hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country. Plans are underway to develop "golden" rice, which also has increased iron content.

Pharmaceuticals and vaccines: These are often produced at high cost, and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines like 'hepatitis-B' in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much cheaper, easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable vaccines.

Phytoremediation: Not all GM plants are grown as crops. Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in all parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees have been genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil.

GM Livestock: Transgenic animals are designed to help diagnose and treat human diseases. Several companies have already designed such products, and are now running tests on transgenic mammals that produce important pharmaceuticals in the animal's milk. Products such as insulin, growth hormone, and tissue plasminogen activator that are currently produced by fermentation of transgenic bacteria may soon be obtained from the milk of transgenic cows, sheep, or goats. Pakistan has large number of cattle, therefore, we can benefit from it if we adopt GM technology and conduct research in transgenic animals.


Biotechnology is making it possible for researchers and developers to deliver products that help farmers protect their crops and improve the economy and environment while grow grains that improve the quality of the food we eat. Research on biotechnology and genetic engineering is now an integral part of the agriculture sector in Pakistan. Government functionaries, political leaders, and leading scientists have viewed biotechnology as priority for over 2 decades. Biotechnology will enhance quality of life in many ways, while helping the environment by reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources. However, that is just the beginning. We have to understand the importance GM and its role and influence on our future growth, health, and environment.