Genetic technology in agriculture to boost crop output

By Shruti Thakur on April 11, 2016

Machines and irrigation systems are not sufficient for increasing the crop output; hence plant engineering and food preservation technology plays a big role in increased output of crops yield. Fertilisation, mixed breeding, genetic modification and pest management are some ways by which crop productivity has increased manifold. Molecular genetics play a major role in helping agricultural crops to attain better production yield, have enhanced nutrition value and resistance towards pathogens and pests. Many  countries like Israel, Egypt, Indonesia, U.K. and Australia use this technique to enhance the yield. It was the advent of this technology that brought about the Green Revolution, resulting in food sufficiency in countries like India and Iran. Better preservation techniques, addition of natural and chemical preservatives, better cold and dry storage warehouses have been effective in controlling post agricultural food spoilage (Adenle 2011).

Impact of genetic methods of plant breeding

Crop improvement has seen tremendous improvement since the application of classical genetic methods of plant breeding using selection and cross breeding techniques. These methods involve the development of new species of crops that have increased yield and are more resistant towards extreme climates and pests. Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, experimented with peas to analyze the result of mixed breeding and his observations on inheritance turned revolutionary for agriculture as well as human development. The work of Mendel was the reason of discovery of hybrid vigor, which is now a major part of crop breeding across the globe, resulting in enhanced crop yield, especially of corn varieties in USA (Wieczorek & Wright 2012). Genetic methods of creating new varieties involve cross breeding, back crossing and recombination etc. to enhance the quality, yield and tolerance of the crop.

On the other hand, genetic modification of crops involves introduction of yield enhancing, disease resistant and stress tolerant genes in the DNA of crops to be bred. It is different from traditional genetic methods as it involves targeted change in the DNA of the plant that is to be modified, thus giving better results in less time frame and saving labour costs. Genetic modification produces transgenic plants. Genetic improvement started in the late 20th century and is now a major part of cultivation. This technology uses the technique of mutation of the genetic material to introduce new genes. It has been carried out in many crop varieties, including rice, wheat, maize etc. They have been engineered to incorporate genes from the wild/distant varieties of their own species. Wild varieties are often more disease resistant and better at bearing extreme climatic conditions. Thus, techniques for developing hybrids of cultivated and wild varieties with desired changes have gained much popularity and majority of crop produce in present day has genes incorporated from their distant wild relatives. Some examples include drought-resistant varieties of wheat and Golden rice. These approaches have resulted in major improvement in crop yield as well as disease and pest resistance. Due to genetic modification, around 2300 crop varieties have been developed and used throughout the world. Some of the examples include rice, cotton, papaya, wheat and barley (Suprem et al. 2013).

Technology has developed in such a way that genetic modification in plants is not restricted to introduction of genetic material from distantly related varieties of a crop plant. It has changed to include foreign genetic material from non-related organisms also. This aspect of modification uses genes from specie or family other than the crop itself, leading to the production of Genetically Modified plants. An example of this technology is the production of Bt. Cotton. This variety of cotton includes a gene from Bacillus thuringenesis, which is a bacterium. These plants have, however, gained much less popularity and acceptance than the traditional modified varieties. There was a widespread protest for the introduction of BT Brinjal in the Indian market in 2010. BT varieties of soyabean, canola and maize are present but major advancements in this sector is hindered by the social and political rejection it has received (Piesse & Thirtle 2010).

Other technologies to improve agricultural yield

Metagenomics is a part of technology that helps in the enhancement of microbiome of the soil, thus maintaining soil health for better plant growth. During the end of 20th century, many cases have been reported of herbicide resistant weeds, creating a problem in effective crop production. In the past, traditional techniques used to isolate desired compounds from living organisms, which are now facing resistance from weeds. These metagenomic approaches have been introduced in the 21st century itselt and involve the extraction of DNA fragments from microorganisms present in soil and look for compounds that can help in overcoming resistance from their genetic material. This approach has resulted in isolation of herbicidal compounds from soil bacteria. New herbicides, like glufosinate, have been developed by this method in 2003 (Satyanarayana et al. 2012).

Foremost concern in the food industry is the security of food. Throughout the crop life, from seeding of crops to its storage, crops need to be handled in such a way that pathogen and pest attack is minimum and food spoilage doesn’t occur. The disease and pest resistant varieties developed from genetic modification ensure the security of crops in farms and technology has also taken care of preventing food spoilage so that production yield is not affected by post-harvest mismanagement. During processing, preservatives and bacteria that are good for human health (probiotics) are being added for preservation as well as enhanced nutrition (Gould 2012).

Mobile and internet technology has enabled farmers to be in touch with the latest developing technologies in the agricultural sector. Farmers can now download apps based for agriculture like mKisan in their mobile phones (Aujla 2014). Some apps can also update them in relation to weather forecast. Internet also provides a wide pool of knowledge regarding irrigation, mechanized equipment and harvesting techniques. Some Examples include Farmers guide, Farming Simulator 14, Bayer Pest Spotter etc. (Patten 2015).

Addressing the population growth with Genetically Modified crops

Even though future crop production might increase, its sustainability and increased procurement from agricultural fields to the market might not be certain due to under investment in this sector. The increasing pressure of population growth, increasing global temperature and decreasing fresh water availability will also prove to be a hurdle for crop production. Societal rejection of genetically modified crops in many countries across the globe might also hinder the technological advancements in the agricultural field (Conner et al. 2003).


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