The products of transgenic technology have captured the attention of enthusiasts and detractors, but transgenics are just one tool of agricultural biotechnology. Other applications enable scientists to understand biodiversity, to track genes through generations in breeding programs, and to move genes among closely related as well as unrelated organisms. These applications all have the potential to lead to substantial productivity gains.
In this chapter we provide an introduction to basic plant genetic concepts, defining molecular markers, transgenic and cisgenic techniques. We briefly summarize the status of commercialized biotechnology applications to agriculture. We consider the likely future commercialization of products like drought tolerant crops, crops designed to improve human nutrition, pharmaceuticals from transgenic plants, biofuels, and crops for environmental remediation. We identify genomic selection as a potentially powerful new technique and conclude with our reflections on the state of agricultural biotechnology.
Research at universities and other public-sector institutions, largely focused on advancing knowledge, has aroused enormous optimism about the promise of these DNA-based technologies. This in turn has led to large private-sector investments on maize, soybean, canola, and cotton, with wide adoption of the research products in about eight countries. Much has been made of the potential of biotechnology to address food needs in the low-income countries, and China, India, and Brazil have large public DNA-based crop variety development efforts. But other lower income developing countries have little capability to use these tools, even the most straightforward marker applications. Ensuring that these and other applications of biotechnology lead to products that are well adapted to local agriculture requires adaptive research capacity that is lacking in the lowest income, most food-insecure nations. We are less optimistic than many others that private research will fund these needs.
Herdt, R.W. and Nelson, R. (2011), "Chapter 1 Biotechnology and Agriculture: Current and Emerging Applications", Carter, C.A., Moschini, G. and Sheldon, I. (Ed.) Genetically Modified Food and Global Welfare (Frontiers of Economics and Globalization, Vol. 10), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 1-27. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1574-8715(2011)0000010006
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