Gene Food: Is Biotechnology Really Friendly?
Biotechnology, a '90s buzzword, popularly conjures up
somewhat ominous images of gene-tinkering. Yet manipulating the genetic
makeup of plants and animals to improve crop yields is far from new.
Cross-breeding for desired traits such as tallness, greater milk yield
or sweeter fruits, has been practiced ever since humans took up
farming. However classical breeding methods have drawbacks, especially
the length of time required to achieve the desired quality. Traditional
cross-breeding means crossing all the genes in two plants or animals
for maybe 10, 12 or more years, to create one with the desired
trait(s). Also, traditional cross-breeding can only be used within
individuals of the same (or related) species - further limiting its
ability to enhance or alter food quality.
What are the benefits of biotechnology? And are they, really?
Biotechnology can dramatically reduce the time and effort required to
improve crops and livestock. The technique allows scientists to modify
plants and animals in a more controlled way, choosing selected genes
for cross-breeding instead of crossing hundreds of genes through many
generations to obtain the desired characteristic. The new technique
allows the transfer of one or a few selected gene at a time, for just
one or a few desirable traits. And the technique even permits genes
with certain traits to be transferred from one species to another,
impossible by traditional breeding methods.
The basis of modern food biotechnology depends on the molecule
deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, the genetic material of all living cells.
It is contained in the chromosomes (threadlike structures) inside the
cell nucleus. Unravelling the molecular structure of DNA opened the
door to rapid advances in food biotechnology. instead of mixing all the
hundreds of genes within a plant or animal in back-crossing, scientists
can now "select out" a particular gene (length of DNA) responsible for
a particular trai