What is Biotechnology?

Whew boy, what a question, right?  We here are Kiss My Tractor are not pro-GMO nor are we anti-GMO.  What we are is pro-science.  This post discusses how biotechnology (Genetically Modified Organisms) works.

So, with that said… Just What Is Biotechnology?  It’s easy to figure out if you break the word apart:  Bio is short for biology, which is the study of all living things.  Technology is another word for tools.  Biotechnology then, is a tool that uses biology to make new products.  For example, plant biotechnology is a precise way to make seed with special qualities.  These seeds allow farmers to grow plants that are more nutritious, more resistant to pests or weeds and are more productive.  Plant biotechnology is a tool for looking closer at nature to find solutions to improve the health of the Earth and its people.

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Biotechnology enables scientists to look closer at genes and make improvements in them.  Our bodies are composed of millions of individual units (cells).  Within each cell are genes that carry all of the information which allows our bodies to work and determines how we look and grow.

We get our genes from our parents, which is why we may look like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  All people, plants and animals inherit traits from their parents through their genes.

One of the first people to study how traits are passed from parents to their young was a monk in Austria named Gregor Mendel.  About 150 years ago, he used plants to show how certain things, like flower size and color are passed on from the parent to the offspring.

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Biotechnology enables scientists to study how plants grow and how they react to the environment.  As a result, scientists can now insert a specific gene into a plant that will help it adapt to its environment, make it more pest resistant or even make it more nutritious.

Biotechnology can help farmers and the environment in may ways.  Insects and weeds are big problems for farmers.  They have many tools to choose from to protect their crops.  Sometimes farmers use chemicals to help control the weeds and insects.  Biotechnology is another option.  For example, many farmers throughout the world grow cotton.  Some young insects, or larvae, love to eat cotton plants.  To stop the larvae from feasting on cotton plants, scientists have found ways to use biotechnology to help the cotton plant protect itself from insect larvae worms.  Farmers who grow these biotech cotton plants do not need to spray as much insecticide on their crops, and they can still grow as much or more cotton per acre!

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Larvae damages the cotton flower

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Undamaged cotton, ready for harvest

Weeds can be a problem, too.  Weeds crowd out the farmer’s crops and rob them of water, light and nutrients they need to grow.  Some farmers plow, disk or cultivate their fields to destroy these weeds, but tilling can cause severe soil erosion.  Thanks to biotechnology, a farmer can manage the weeds without having to do extra tilling.  This saves energy as well as the soil.  Giving farmers more choices to control harmful insects and weeds help their farms and the environment.

Biotechnology has tremendous potential for improving the environment and our food supply for people around the world.  While for centuries, farmers have been breeding plants to create better crops, biotechnology takes the process a giant step further.  Agricultural biotechnology is a precise way to make seeds with special  specific qualities.  These seeds can allow farmers to grow plants that are more nutritious or more adaptable to their environment, more resistant to pests, and more productive.

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For example, varieties of biotech corn have already been developed for regions of Africa which have saltier, drier and wetter conditions than past available corn would tolerate.  In some areas, their yields there have quadrupled, enabling farmers to improve the lives, economics and health of their families.  Golden rice, a biotech variety, has higher levels of beta-carotene, and is grown in Asia, where soils are deficient in Vitamin A.  Golden Rice is improving the diets and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children there.

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Golden Rice on the left as compared with regular white rice

As our world population increases and we become more dependent on our farmers to produce higher yields and better nutrition, with less chemicals, less erosion and less water, biotechnology may prove to be the greatest aid in food production and environment protection we have ever seen.

*Ag Mag, an agricultural magazine for kids, permission from the Council of Biotechnology Information.

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This entry was posted in Ag Production, Biotechnology, Education, Erosion, Farmers, Farmland Preservation, Feeding the World, For Kids, GMOs. Bookmark the permalink.

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