If you have had a can of soft drink, ate a fruit, or took some head achemedicine this morning – then it’s very likely you have used a geneticallyenhanced product. Genetics is a part of biotechnology that manipulatesbiological organisms to make products that benefit humankind. Biotechnology isessential in our life, but there are some concerns regarding its safety.
Although, biotechnology may pose some danger it is proving to be very beneficialto humankind. The first applications of biotechnology occurred approximatelyaround 5000 BC. Back then people used simple breeding methods. Chains of plantsor animals were crossed to produce greater genetic variety. The hybridizedoffspring then were selectively bred to produce the desired traits.
For example,for about 7000 years, corn has been selectively bred for increased kernel sizeand additional nutrition value. Also, through selective breeding, cattle andpigs have become the major sources of animal foods for human (Encarta 99). Themodern era of biotechnology started in 1953 when British biophysicist FrancisCrick and American biochemist James Watson presented their double-stranded modelof DNA. DNA is an extensive, chain-like structure made up of nucleotides, and ina way it looks like a twisted rope ladder (Drlica 27).Order now
In 1960 Swissmicrobiologist Werner Arber had discovered restriction enzymes. This specialkind of enzymes can cut DNA of an organism at precise points. In 1973 Americanscientists Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer removed a specific gene from onebacterium and inserted it into another using restriction enzymes. Thisachievement served as foundation to recombinant DNA technology, which iscommonly called genetic engineering. Recombinant DNA technology is a transfer ofa specifically coded gene of one organism into bacteria. Further, the hostbacteria serve as a biologic factory by reproducing the transferred gene.
Todaybiotechnology’s applications are used in a variety of areas. It’s used in wastemanagement for creation of biodegradable materials, in agriculture for higheryields and quality, in medicine for production of advanced pharmaceuticals,cloning tissues and curing genetic diseases. However there is a down side togenetic engineering. It deals with dangerous bacteria which could escape theboundaries of a lab and possibly cause epidemics. Moreover, if a transgenicorganism escapes, it could eliminate a range of species and thus disrupt naturalbalance.
Since biotechnology is a necessity, some government guidelines wereestablished for strict regulation of recombinant DNA experiments (Encarta 99). Agriculture is the largest business in the world, with assets of approximately$900 billion and about 15 million employees. Back in the 80’s, there was aconcern, based on population growth rates, that by the turn of the centurytraditional agriculture would be in a serious trouble (Hanson 68). But due tothe revolutionary development of biotechnology during last couple of decadesagriculture has drastically advanced. Sensational achievements were made in bothplant cultivation and animal husbandry. The modification of plants has becomeone of the most important aspects in agriculture.
Increased crop yields can beachieved through the increase of land, or increased yield per tract. Land isexpensive and should be used efficiently, to do so – large quantities offertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and frequent irrigation may be necessary. Dueto the increase in petroleum cost – prices for nitrogen fertilizers continuouslyrise. Herbicides and pesticides are considered to be hazardous and very costlymaterials. Moreover, recurrent irrigation gradually leads to serious damage ofthe soil due to the salt accumulation.
Eventually, increased amounts of salt inthe soil result in large losses of crops (Hanson 69). Biotechnology canincorporate genes that are resistant to environmental stress, viruses, andinsects. Such modified plants will be resistant to the same factors as theincorporated gene. Crop plants could be genetically engineered to manufacturefunctional insecticides so that they are immanently tolerant to insects. Nohazardous and costly pesticides are needed for such plants resulting in very lowcrop maintenance costs. Moreover, biological insecticides are highly specificfor a range of insects and considered to be harmless to humans and other higheranimals (Glick and Pasternak 341).
Plant viruses very often attack crops andcause significant damage and loss of crops. Recombinant DNA technology offers afew ways to obtain natural virus resistance: viral transmission can be blocked,development of the virus can be blocked, or viral symptoms can be bypassed orresisted (Glick and Pasternak 345). Biotechnology also contributes to thedevelopment of plants with higher tolerance to environmental changes. Plantscannot avoid hazardous environmental conditions such as heat, drought, and UVradiation, so they have developed physiological ways to deal with .