“The pace of progress in biology creates a foundation that naturally gets picked up by the biotech and pharmaceutical industry to solve rich-world diseases. This is attractive science. It’s science that people want to work on.” – Bill Gates
Biotechnology is a branch of science which deals with the utilization of biological systems and living organisms to produce desirable products often on a large scale. It has applications in four major sectors – medical (therapeutic, diagnostic), agriculture and crop production (genetically modified crops, tissue culture, and micro-propagation), industrial (biofuel production), and environmental uses (bioremediation, waste treatment).
Biotechnology in cropping
Agricultural biotechnology or Agritech is a scientific approach of using tools and techniques to modify the genetic make-up and improve the qualities of plants to our needs. It has the scope of enhancing crop productivity and addresses the problem of food insecurity at a global level. One classic example of a GM crop is the Bt Cotton. It is resistant to the attacks of pests like bollworms and has the ability to kill them off without the use of any pesticides. This increases the yield of the cotton and reduces the dependency on chemical pesticides and input costs.
In the field of horticulture, we see that the demand for fruits and vegetables increases as the population grows in size. But their production is not increasing by conventional breeding practices. Tomatoes are especially susceptible to climate changes and viral diseases. Here, biotechnology comes into rescue. Development of GM tomato, papaya, watermelon, etc. has proved that we have come a long way. Bt- brinjal was the first vegetable biotech crop to be produced by India. Similar strategies can also be applied in the case of floriculture and ornamental plants.
Biotechnology in animal husbandry
Sexing of semen and embryos is done by removing the Y chromosome so that only female cattle can be produced. This will improve the quality and quantity of milk production. Cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer, and transgenic animals help in improving the quality of breeds, making them disease and climate resistant. Transgenic cows produce more nutritionally balanced milk for human babies than normal cow milk. For example, the first transgenic cow Rosie produced milk with human alpha-lactalbumin. Selling these premium products will fetch higher prices in the market.
Recombinant DNA technology has led to the development of vaccines for several diseases like Anthrax, Brucellosis, etc. This way the animal diseases are controlled and the farmers’ animal upkeep costs are declined.
Thus the use of biotechnology in agriculture and animal husbandry can improve the yield of the products and make it resilient to diseases and the changes in climate, thereby improving the incomes of farmers.