The Role of Biotechnology

Biotechnology is the alteration and use of living organisms to develop products or technologies. Humans have used biotechnology for thousands of years. For example, humans have used selective breeding in agriculture to produce higher quality foods and medicines.

  • Some more recent examples of biotechnology include genetic modification and cloning.

Biotechnology has the potential to play a significant role in addressing the challenge of feeding an increasing global population. One way it can do this is by using genetic modification and other techniques to improve the productivity and resilience of crops.

For example, genetically modified crops can be made resistant to:

  • Herbicides – These allow crops to be resistant, so only the weeds are killed and not the crop itself.
  • Pests – Crops can be engineered to produce compounds that deter or kill pests, reducing the need for external pesticides.
  • Drought – Crops can be engineered to thrive in dry conditions, requiring less water.

Biotechnology can enable populations to produce foods that were previously unavailable in certain regions due to specific environmental factors. This can help to diversify food sources and make them more resilient to local challenges such as drought or pests.

Genetic Modification

Scientists can genetically modify crops for various purposes. This is done by identifying beneficial genes in organisms and then using enzymes to transfer these genes into the genome of a different species.

For example, GM crops can be modified to:

  • Be resistant to insects and pesticides
  • Produce more food
  • Improve the nutritional value of food

Golden Rice

Golden rice is a genetically modified form of rice that has been developed to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in many parts of the world. Rice is a staple food for billions of people around the world, but many of these people do not get enough vitamin A in their diet.

Golden rice contains beta-carotene, a molecule which the body can convert into vitamin A. By consuming golden rice, people can help to prevent vitamin A deficiency and reduce their risk of going blind. Therefore, golden rice is an example of how biotechnology can be used to address global health challenges.

Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein is a protein-rich food source derived from a fungus and produced using biotechnology. It is made by culturing (growing) the fungus Fusarium in large fermentation tanks. The fermenters are carefully controlled to maintain the optimal pH and temperature for the fungus to grow.

To produce mycoprotein, the fungus is cultured on a food source, such as golden syrup, and supplied with oxygen. The resulting fungal biomass can then be harvested and purified to create mycoprotein.

Mycoprotein can be used as a protein source in vegetarian foods.

Advantages of Mycoprotein

  • Suitable for vegetarians
  • Efficient source of protein as a large amount of mycoprotein can be grown in a relatively small space

Using Microorganisms to Make Insulin

Scientists produce human insulin by genetically modifying bacteria in fermentation tanks. They extract the gene for insulin production from human cells and insert it into the bacteria, causing the bacteria to produce human insulin.

Once the insulin has been harvested and purified, it can be used to treat people with diabetes.

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