Today, biotechnology is biology’s fastest growing discipline prompted by the ever-increasing demand for food and fuel in a cleaner and greener environment. In general, biotechnology encompasses a broad range of technologies and applications to produce useful living products and services. Integration of biotechnology into the field of agriculture makes the better use of limited resources, increases production and reduces the use of pesticides and insecticides on crops. Agricultural biotechnology is a field of agricultural science which uses cell and molecular biology tools to improve genetic makeup and agronomic management of crops and animals.
There are many biotechnology techniques used by scientist and researchers in this discipline which include genetic engineering, marker-assisted selection, hybridization, plant tissue culture, bio-fertilizer technology, artificial insemination technology, plant and livestock disease diagnostics as well as vaccine production. So, biotechnology helps to increase productivity and efficiency with the use of the above techniques. Thus, most of the use of these biotech tools has the potential to improve the livelihoods of people living in areas who are depending mainly on agriculture.
Table of Contents
Different Fields of Agriculture Implementing Biotechnology
Both the field of agriculture and biotechnology covers a lot of ground. Likely, the integration of both and their applications are many.
1. Biofertiliser Technologies
A bio-fertilizer is a substance which contains living organisms which, when applied to seed, plant, surfaces, or soil, colonize the rhizosphere or the interior of the plants and promotes growth by increasing the supply or availability of primary nutrients to the host plants.
Bio-fertilizers are eco-friendly and do not contain substances that harm the living soil. It acts indirectly helping the plants or the crops in proper stimulation through natural processes like nitrogen fixation, phosphorylation, enhancing the growth by the provision of the growing substances. For example, Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azospirillum, Frankia, Blue-green algae.
Some of these bio-fertilizers like Rhizobium and Frankia cannot independently work as a fertilizer hence, it establishes itself inside the root nodules of leguminous plant species. Whereas, blue-green algae is free-living and helps in nitrogen fixation in moist soil. These biofertilizers help in the synthesis of organic compounds that contain nitrogen such as amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids etc. It has been gaining popularity and mostly used for crops such as Wheat, Maize, Cotton, Mustard, etc.
2. Molecular Breeding
Marker-assisted selection or molecular breeding is cutting edge technology among today’s biotech companies. Plant breeders can use this technique to locate and assemble desirable traits to speed up the process of developing the new commercial hybrids.
Unlike GMOs, new crop varieties produced by marker-assisted selection are spared the regulatory trials and the public opposition mainly because the plant’s natural genetic boundaries are not crossed.
When a marker is genetically linked to a treat, its use can speed up the identification of genetically superior plants. Then, these superior plants are used to develop disease-resistant plants and have resistant to the adverse effect of climate change. As a result, it helps in making improved plants and increases the productivity of agriculture.
3. Disease Diagnostics and Vaccines
Disease in agriculture is one of the most problematic issues. Thus, biotechnology techniques can be an effective measure for disease management.
Biotechnology has a significant application in pharmacogenomics, genetic testing, serological tests and genetic therapy. It has developed certain feed additives or enzymes like prebiotics, single cell protein etc provided as nutrients for animals whereas Recombinant vaccines, Sterile Insect Techniques (STI) etc are usually practised to maintain the health of animals. It also helps in the identification of multiple pathogens, distinguishes antibiotic resistant genotype and to confirm complex multispecies infection.
Clostrodium chauvoei, Pasteurella multicoda, Brucella abortis, Bacillus antracis, rabies virus etc are certain micro organisms used in vaccines and serological tests.
The agricultural industry plays an important role in the production of biofuels and consuming resources and also as the feedstock for fermentation and cleaning of biofuel; biodiesel and bio-ethanol. Genetic engineering and enzyme optimization techniques are being used to develop improved quality feedstock for more efficient change and higher BTU ( British Thermal Unit) outputs for resulting better fuel products.
High yielding, energy-dense crops can minimize relative costs associated with harvesting and transportation resulting in higher value fuel products.
5. Nutrient Supplement
In order to get better health and free from diseases, the correct amount of nutrition is essential. So, scientists are creating hereditary distorted foods that hold nutrients that help to fight disease and starvation.
An example of this is golden rice which contains beta-carotene which helps in the manufacture of vitamin A in our bodies. It was found that people who eat rice helps to manufacture more vitamin A and necessary nutrients lacking in the diets of people of developing Asian countries.
6. Plant and Animal Reproduction
Using traditional methods like cross-pollination, grafting and crossbreeding to enhance plant and animal behaviour is time-consuming. Biotech advance let for specific changes to be made rapidly, on a molecular level through the removal of genes, or the introduction of foreign genes.
This is possible using gene expression control mechanisms such as specific gene promoters and transcription factors. Methods like marker-assisted selection improve the efficiency of “directed” animal breeding, without the controversy normally associated with GMOs. Gene cloning methods must also address species differences in the genetic code, the presence or absence of introns and post-translational modifications such as methylation.
7. Improvement In Floriculture
Floriculture is associated with the cultivation of flowering and ornamental plants for gardens and for floristry, comprising the floral industry. Biotechnology is playing a key role in the generation of new varieties with the change in colour, scent, size and flower through gene manipulation technique. Through biotechnological approaches such as tissue culture and micropropagation techniques, polyploidy induction, mutation, breeding, and genetic engineering. Many varieties of ornamental plants have been developed. More than 50 ornamental plants are now being transformed using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and particle bombardment techniques. ( Chandler and Sanchez, 2012).
Micropropagation is one of the tools of tissue culture, used in order to increase the growing stock of required plant material rapidly. The propagated plants are generally disease resistant. It is an advanced Vegetative Propagation Technology.
Micropropagation can be used commercially for asexual propagation to produce a large number of the same plant with the same genetic makeup from small pieces of plant tissues. The technique is useful for seed production in certain crops as genetic conservation is highly important during the seed production processes. A large number of plants can be produced in a short period of time and can also be maintained in small spaces saving some of the endangered species and germplasm.