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Bio Technology :: Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is Agricultural Biotechnology?

Agricultural biotechnology is a range of tools, including traditional breeding techniques that alter living organisms, or parts of organisms, to make or modify products; improve plants or animals; or develop microorganisms for specific agricultural uses. Modern biotechnology today includes the tools of genetic engineering.

2. How is Agricultural Biotechnology being used?

Biotechnology provides farmers with tools that can make production cheaper and more manageable. For example, some biotechnology crops can be engineered to tolerate specific herbicides which make weed control simpler and more efficient. Other crops have been engineered to be resistant to specific plant diseases and insect pests, which can make pest control more reliable and effective, and/or can decrease the use of synthetic pesticides.

3. What are the benefits of Agricultural Biotechnology?

The application of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in benefits to farmers, producers, and consumers.Biotechnology has helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding crops against disease. For example, genetically engineered insect-resistant cotton has allowed for a significant reduction in the use of persistent, synthetic pesticides that may contaminate groundwater and the environment.

Biotech crops can make farming more profitable by increasing crop quality and may in some cases increase yields. The use of some of these crops can simplify work and improve safety for farmers.

Source:http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&navid=AGRICULTURE& contentid=BiotechnologyFAQs.xml

4. What is Bt? 

Bt is shorthand for common soil-inhabiting bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt also refers to insecticide products made from these bacteria.

5. Where is Bt normally found? 

Bt is widely distributed. In addition to being found in many soils around the world, it is also found on the leaves of plants and in stored grain.

6. What does Bt have to do with insect pests?

Some strains of Bt kill insects with toxins called insecticidal crystal proteins or delta endotoxins. This group of toxins is considered relatively harmless to humans and most non-pest species. However, other toxins produced by Bt have a broader spectrum of toxicity.

7. How is the insect exposed to Bt?

Delta endotoxins are stomach poisons that must be eaten by the insect in order to be effective. After ingestion, the toxin is activated in the highly alkaline insect midgut.

8. How does Bt kill insects?

Delta endotoxins rapidly paralyze the insect’s digestive system, so damage to the plant stops soon after the insect is exposed to the crystals. Mortality may take several days, so the effects of delta endotoxins are very different from what we expect from conventional insecticides.

9. Are there other types of Bt toxins?

 Another type of Bt toxins are called vegetative insecticidal proteins, or VIPs. VIPs are also considered relatively safe for non-pest species; however, other classes of toxins produced by Bt have a broader spectrum of toxicity.

10. What pests are controlled by Bt? 

Different strains (about 280 are known) of Bacillus thuringiensis produce different forms of delta endotoxins—many are toxic to caterpillars (e.g., European corn borer), while others are toxic to flies (e.g., mosquitoes) or beetles (e.g., corn rootworm).

 11. Are Bt insecticides new?

Bt insecticides, consisting of dormant Bt and delta endotoxin, have been available commercially and used in agriculture for more than 30 years (e.g., Bactimos, Biobit, Dipel, Javelin, Teknar, Vectobac). These are used primarily for control of caterpillar pests of various crops, as well as mosquito and black fly larvae.

12. Is Bt safe?

The delta endotoxins are considered to be much more selective and safer for humans and non-target organisms than most conventional insecticides because they attack sites that are found only in a few groups of insects. Commercial Bt insecticides are classified as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) by the EPA, and are approved for most organic certification programs.

13. What is Bt corn?

Production of delta endotoxin is controlled by a single gene in the bacteria. A modified version of this gene can be placed in corn plants. Corn plants containing this gene can produce delta endotoxin and therefore be toxic to insects that are susceptible to that form of the protein.

14. Why use the Bt gene in corn?

Delta endotoxins sprayed on plants break down quickly when exposed to UV light. Delta endotoxins produced in the plant are protected from UV light. Also, several of the major pests of corn are difficult and expensive to control with conventional insecticides, but are susceptible to delta endotoxins produced in plant tissues. The biotechnology to insert the toxin producing Bt gene into corn is available.

15. Is the entire Bt corn plant toxic?

It depends. Two factors, the event and the promoter, control where delta endotoxins are produced in the plant and in what amounts. Different seed companies use different events and promoters, so their hybrids will also be different in what plant tissues produce delta endotoxins.

The insertion event is the physical act of putting the Bt gene into the corn plant’s genetic material. This is when the physical location of the Bt gene is determined (which chromosome, what part of the chromosome, etc). Gene location affects where in the plant delta endotoxins are produced and how much delta endotoxin is produced. Currently, we do not have the technology to control Bt gene location, so each event results in plants that differ in where and in how much delta endotoxin is produced.

The promoter is a genetic switch that tells the inserted Bt gene when and where to produce delta endotoxins. Several different promoters are available and the choice of promoter also affects where and how much delta endotoxin is produced in the corn plant, leading to differences among hybrids.

16. How many kinds of Bt corn are there?

There are many different Bt corn hybrids available, however, each contains only one or two of the events described above.

17. I’ve heard that Bt corn is toxic to Monarch butterflies. Is this true?

The caterpillar stage of the Monarch feeds on milkweed. Laboratory studies show some mortality in Monarch caterpillars fed milkweed leaves covered with Bt corn pollen. Several questions still need to be answered before the risk to Monarch butterflies can be determined.

18. Do Monarch butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants in or near cornfields?

Yes. Early indications are that more eggs are laid in and near cornfields than in the other environments that were studied.

19. Is Monarch caterpillar survival lower on milkweed plants in Bt cornfields compared to non-Bt cornfields?

No. There were no differences in survival at several locations in the Midwest and Ontario. The exception to this is Bt corn transformed with the now discontinued event 176.

20. Is Monarch caterpillar survival better when corn borers are controlled with Bt corn or with insecticides?

Studies in both field and sweet corn showed lower Monarch caterpillar survival in insecticide-treated fields compared to untreated fields planted to Bt corn hybrids.

21. What is a lethal dose of Bt corn pollen?

This depends on the event. The most toxic pollen is produced by event 176 (no longer available commercially), which has 15 to 25 times more delta endotoxin per pollen grain than event MON810. The lethal dose (LD50) for event 176 pollen is about 2500 pollen grains per in2 of milkweed leaf. No observable adverse effects were found at 850 grains (event 176) per in2 of milkweed leaf. No acute effects have been identified for pollen from plants with event MON810 or event Bt11. However, additional questions have been raised regarding the toxicity of anthers to Monarch caterpillars and other non-target caterpillars.

22. Do lethal doses of Bt corn pollen occur on milkweed plants within Bt cornfields?

Bt corn pollen counts within Ontario fields averaged 500 grains grains per in2 of milkweed leaf. The highest counts in this study were just below 2500 grains per in2 of milkweed leaf.

23. Do lethal doses of Bt corn pollen occur on milkweed plants near Bt cornfields?

Corn pollen is relatively heavy and does not travel far. Milkweed plants three feet from Ontario cornfields averaged 180 pollen grains per in2 of milkweed leaf and milkweed plants 15 feet from the field averaged nine pollen grains per in2 of milkweed leaf. Rainfall greatly reduces pollen densities on milkweed plants in cornfields.

24. Are there sublethal effects for Monarch caterpillars that feed on Bt corn pollen?

Little is known about sublethal effects such as reduced growth or delayed development. However, it has been noted that Monarch caterpillars consume less when fed milkweed leaves containing Bt corn pollen than on clean leaves.

25. Are Monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed leaves during pollen shed?

The more synchrony there is between pollen shed and the presence of small Monarch caterpillars on milkweed, the greater the risk from Bt corn. Currently, researchers believe that there is little overlap between the two, but both are variable events influenced by weather and location so there may be situations where they are well synchronized.

26. Is there anything that can be done to protect the Monarch butterfly from Bt corn pollen in Colorado?

The threat to Monarchs in Colorado is quite low since the Monarch butterfly is rare in our state. Where Monarchs are more common, the EPA suggests planting non-Bt corn as a pollen trap around the field or consider prevailing wind direction and likely Monarch habitat locations when deciding where Bt corn and non-Bt corn should be planted. These suggestions would also serve to minimize the risk to other non-target caterpillars that might be of concern.

27. Are there other insects that are threatened by Bt corn?

Many species of caterpillars occur in and around cornfields during the growing season, and might be affected by Bt corn. This will be a continuous concern as new events are introduced in corn and as other modified crops are developed.
One Midwest study showed that black swallowtail larvae were unaffected by Bt corn pollen, but another indicated that event 176 pollen could have sublethal effects on this species. However, the detailed sets of studies currently underway on the Monarch butterfly have not been undertaken for this insect.

One European study showed that green lacewing larvae (a predator found in corn) fed European corn borers from Bt corn had greater mortality than lacewing larvae fed corn borers from non-Bt corn.

28. Is it true that the roots of Bt corn plants leak delta endotoxins into the soil? 

Yes, this has been demonstrated in several laboratory studies. However, the implications for various soil organisms are unclear. Since Bt is a very common soil bacterium, it is likely that exposure of these organisms to delta endotoxins is common. The levels of delta endotoxins measured in the lab studies were at least 10 times below those that cause observable effects in important soil organisms such as earthworms and springtails.

29. The alternative to Bt corn seems to be the use of conventional insecticides. Which is more harmful to nontarget insects, such as the Monarch butterfly?

Very few studies have been conducted on the risk of Bt corn to nontarget insects. Preliminary results from these indicate that the risks are relatively small. Also, millions of acres of forests have been treated for gypsy moth and other pests with Bt insecticides over the past 30 years with little documented effect on nontarget species. On the other hand, the hazards of conventional insecticides to many different nontarget insect species are very well documented.

30. I’ve heard that Bt corn is a health threat because it causes allergic responses in some people. Is this true?

Some experimental transgenic plants have caused allergic responses. The EPA requires several food allergen tests as part of the registration process for transgenic crops containing pesticidal substances. The first test measures the length of time that the potential allergen survives in an acid environment. Longer survival times indicate more likelihood of surviving the digestion process and being absorbed into the blood stream, which is the first step in food allergenicity. Delta endotoxins produced by the currently available events all are rapidly broken down in the stomach and thus are not potential food allergens.

31. What is biotechnology, and how is it different from traditional plant breeding?

Biotechnology is the use of modern scientific techniques, including genetic engineering, to improve or modify plants, animals, and microorganisms. In agriculture, crop improvement is not new. For centuries, farmers, nurserymen, and others have crossbred (intermingled the genes of) various plants in an effort to produce more and better foods. Using advanced scientific methods, biotechnology greatly expands our capabilities to introduce new traits into food crops. Traditional breeding techniques typically involve the repeated mixing of thousands of genes over several years and many generations of plants to achieve a desired trait.

32. Beyond increased yields, what are some of the benefits of biotech products?

In agriculture, first generation biotechnology products have traits that result in reduced pesticide use or higher yields due to reduced pest losses. Bt cotton, for example, is a widely grown biotech crop that kills several important cotton pests. These products provide indirect benefits for consumers and the environment through lower agricultural chemical usage. Products in development also include those with improved nutritional value. For example, a new rice variety developed in switzerland under a Rockefeller Foundation grant provides vitamin A. Also in development are soybeans with enhanced nutrient content for use in animal feed and corn that contains phosphorus in a form more easily absorbed by livestock.

33. Is the United States the only industrial country that has developed geneticallyengineered agricultural products?

The United States is not alone in developing new biotech products or in offering them for commercial production. Several European countries, including Germany and Switzerland, as well as Canada, China, Argentina, South Africa, and Japan, have already approved several biotech varieties, such as corn, soybeans, and other crops. What's more, European companies are very active in developing and offering transgenic varieties for commercial planting in the United States. For example, AgrEvo, a German company, and Novartis, a Swiss company, both have offered commercial varieties of genetically modified corn and soybean to U.S. farmers. Moreover, about one-half of the applications for approval of transgenic varieties currently pending in the EU regulatory system are sponsored by EU companies.

 Source: http://usa.usembassy.de/etexts/tech/biotechfaq.pdf

34. Are crops developed using biotechnology as safe for the environment as crops developed using traditional breeding practices?

Yes. Extensive scientific evaluation worldwide has not found any examples of ecological damage from biotechnology crops. Many published studies-from the National Academies, the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology, and others-have arrived at the same conclusion: Biotechnology-derived crops pose no unique risks to the environment compared with similar crops produced using traditional techniques.

35. Can foods developed using biotechnology cause food allergies?

Developers of foods enhanced through biotechnology are mindful of the possibility, albeit unlikely, of introducing an allergen into that food. FDA regulations require companies that use genes from a known allergenic source to assume that they will produce an allergen and to perform allergenicity tests on the food product. Approximately 90 percent of food-related allergies are linked to proteins found in tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, and wheat. Knowing this, agricultural biotechnology companies have avoided using genetic material from these foods in developing biotechnology products.

36. What are examples of agricultural biotechnology products currently available?

The first effort at marketing a crop food modified through biotechnology occurred in 1989, when Calgene Corporation sought approval for its Flavr Savr tomato, engineered to provide extended shelf life.

Bt corn, potato, and cotton incorporate select genes from the widely used biological control agent Bacillus thuringiensis to resist the European corn borer, Colorado potato beetle and pink boll worm, respectively.

Important commercial plants that have been modified to resist viral infection include potato, squash, cucumber, watermelon, and papaya, among others. These plants resist viruses through a mechanism known as cross-protection, which is somewhat similar to immunization.

37. Have farmers adopted new crop varieties developed using biotechnology?

Yes. Farmers have embraced crops enhanced through biotechnology because they provide value and solve real, sometimes previously intractable, problems. Worldwide, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), biotech crops were grown on more than 167 million acres in 2003 by 7 million farmers in 18 countries. A total of 85 percent of growers using biotech crops are small farmers in developing countries, which represents nearly one-third of the global biotech crop area. While the United States grew more than 105 million acres of biotech crops in 2003, Argentina and China each grew more than 10 million acres of biotech crops that same year; China and Brazil each grew more than 5 million acres of biotech crops in 2003.

38. What is "terminator" technology?

Terminator technology refers to research of seeds/plants that produce sterile seeds. While research of this technology has been conducted in conjunction with the USDA, no agricultural biotechnology company currently uses this technology. In the future, this technology could be used to prevent any gene flow between biotechnology and traditional crops.

39. Can biotechnology play a beneficial role in aquaculture?

Yes. Using biotechnology, developments in the field of aquaculture will allow a high-quality source of food to be brought to market more quickly, reduce the price to consumers, and eliminate the demand to overfish wild stocks. For example, AquaAdvantage® salmon, developed by Aqua Bounty Farms, can grow from egg to market size (6 to 10 pounds) in 12 to 18 months. Fish produced using conventional fish-breeding techniques normally require two to three years.

Federal regulatory agencies will require rigorous testing for food and environmental safety. New biotechnology salmon varieties could make fish farming more sustainable, decrease overfishing of wild salmon and lower consumer costs. As sterile females are used, there is little risk to wild stocks should these fish escape to the wild.

40. Can agriculture biotechnology assist in meeting the food demands of a growing global population?

Yes. Agricultural biotechnology can be a key element in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

       The National Academies and six other international scientific organizations recently issued a report discussing the role of biotechnology in meeting global food needs. It concluded that, "GM technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers." Other groups-including the International Food Policy Research Institute, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Nuffield Council on Bioethics-have issued similar findings. 
Biotechnology already is beginning to make a contribution. For example:

  • "Golden rice," enriched with beta carotene, will help combat vitamin-A deficiency, a major cause of blindness in the developing world. (A similar strain of rice has been enriched with iron to ward off anemia.). A "golden mustard" also may yield provitamin A-enriched cooking oil.
  • New varieties of corn, sorghum and wheat are being developed to provide more lysine, an important dietary protein.
  • "Pharma foods" are being developed that may help prevent or cure diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, leading causes of infant mortality in developing countries.
  • Plants that resist viral pests, such as a new variety of African sweet potato that wards off the feathery mottle virus, can improve yields of important staple crops. Viral resistance also is being imparted to high-value cucurbit crops grown throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Foods with extended shelf lives can reduce food losses caused by spoilage.
  • Plants that resist toxic or salty soils will increase the areas available for farming in many regions of the world.

These are just a few examples of what biotechnology can do to improve the lives of people in the developing world. While not a total solution, biotechnology can play an important role in helping developing countries achieve food security.

41. What is "golden rice" and can it be an effective means to prevent vitamin deficiency?

Vitamin-A deficiency is a serious condition that can lead to blindness and increase susceptibility to infectious agents. It affects an estimated 200 million people, primarily in developing countries where rice is a dietary staple.

Using biotechnology techniques, scientists have developed a new strain of rice, called golden rice, that naturally produces beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Golden rice can provide enough beta-carotene to make up vitamin-A deficiencies in the diets of poor children, and it can also increase the amount of vitamin A in breast milk, an important source of nutrition for infants. Further, scientists has enriched the same strain of rice with additional iron to combat anemia, which affect hundreds of millions of the world's poor.

Source: http://www.bio.org/foodag/faq.asp

 42. What does it mean to "genetic engineer" an organism?

When scientists genetically engineer a plant or animal, they remove a copy of a gene from one organism and transfer that gene to a different organism. The new gene becomes integrated into every cell of the organism and is inherited by the crop's offspring. In most cases, the new gene produces a new protein in the cell, which then provides the organism with some useful trait.

43. What kinds of traits have been engineered into agricultural crops?

Most of the commercial genetically engineered ("GE") crops grown in the United States contain genes that provide either pest resistance or herbicide tolerance. GE corn and cotton contain Bt genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The proteins produced from those genes kill certain insect pests when the proteins are ingested by those insects, eliminating the need to kill those pests with chemical pesticides.

44. Am I currently eating genetically engineered foods?

GE soybeans are processed to make soybean oil and soy lecithin, an emulsifier used in many foods. GE canola and cotton are also processed to produce canola oil or cotton-seed oil, both of which are used for cooking. Therefore, many processed food products that you might buy at the supermarket contain ingredients that were derived from GE corn, soybeans, canola, or cotton.

Although products such as soy oil or fructose sweetener were produced from GE crops, the process of producing the oil or corn syrup from the crop eliminates virtually all of the transgene and its protein product. Thus, Americans consume daily foods with ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops, but our diets actually expose us to very little of the engineered gene or its product.

45. Are there benefits from current GE crops?

The benefits from GE crops are sometimes difficult to determine. However, several benefits seem well substantiated. The use of Bt cotton in several regions of the United States has substantially reduced the use of broad-spectrum and highly poisonous insecticides. Thus, Bt cotton provides significant environmental benefits because it has a less detrimental effect on the environment than the pesticides it replaces. Similar benefits have been documented when Bt cotton has been used in China and other countries.

Herbicide-tolerant soybeans have simplified farming for farmers, saving them time and allowing them to attend to other matters.

46. What are the main health concerns related to GE crops?

Potential harm from GE crops include the production of new allergens or toxins, or unexpectedly increased levels of naturally occurring toxicants or allergens found in crops. Such unexpected changes may be caused by disruption of native genes, unexpected interactions between the GE genes and plant components, or due to the GE process itself. A more remote possibility is that new harmful substances could be produced by the plant.

47. Can GE foods cause new allergies?

Allergies are typically caused by proteins, and since most engineered crops produce new proteins, it is possible that new allergens could be added to a GE plant. In fact, several years ago an allergen was inadvertently transferred from the Brazil nut to a genetically engineered variety of soybeans. That allergen was detected by safety tests and the GE soybeans were never commercialized.

48. What was Starlink corn and was it allergenic?

Starlink was a variety of Bt corn intended to kill certain insect pests. Starlink contained a different Bt gene than other Bt corn varieties and microbial Bt sprays used by conventional and organic farmers. The Bt protein produced by Starlink corn did not pass the allergenicity testing required by EPA, so EPA considered it to be a potential allergen. Based on those test results, EPA decided in 1998 that Starlink corn could be used only for animal feed, not human food.

49. What are the major environmental risks from the growing of GE crops?

GE crops might harm the environment in several ways. One way is for the crop to produce substances that kill beneficial organisms above or below ground. Those toxic effects would be limited primarily to the crop fields, but since crops are a major land use, the harm could be considerable. Initial evidence suggested that Monarch butterflies might be harmed by certain Bt corn varieties, but additional and more extensive experiments showed that harm to be unlikely. Another way GE crops could harm the environment is if they grow where they are not wanted.

50. Will plants be engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals?

No pharmaceuticals are being produced commercially in crops, but many field-trials of such crops are occurring. The most common crop used for those field trials is corn. That is risky if not done carefully because pollen from corn engineered to produce a pharmaceutical ("pharm" crops) could contaminate food corn in neighboring fields by pollinating it. While regulatory requirements for minimum distances between "pharm" and food corn are designed to keep levels of cross-fertilization low, many pharmaceuticals affect the body at tiny concentrations. The current law does not require the developer to assess the potential harm caused by pharmaceuticals produced in plants if they enter the food supply.

51. Will there be GE animals in the future?    

Numerous researchers around the world are developing genetically engineered animals. Animals, such as livestock, fish or insects, may be genetically engineered in a manner similar to GE plants. So far, no GE livestock is in commercial use. For example, Dolly the sheep was not genetically engineered, but was cloned (that is, a nearly identical animal was produced from the cells of an adult sheep, rather than the addition of new genes). Genetically engineered animals used for research, such as mice, have been commercially available for several years. When GE animals are commercialized, they will present many of the same risk issues as GE plants, as well as ethical concerns about the welfare of the animals.

 Source: http://www.cspinet.org/biotech/faq.html

52. What is biotechnology?

Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques, including genetic engineering, that are used to create, improve, or modify plants, animals, and microorganisms. Using conventional techniques, such as selective breeding, scientists have been working to improve plants and animals for human benefit for hundreds of years. Modern techniques now enable scientists to move genes (and therefore desirable traits) in ways they could not before—and with greater ease and precision.

Source: http://www.fas.usda.gov/ITP/BIOTECH/Qs_As.asp

53.  What is plant biotechnology? 

Plant biotechnology is a process to produce a genetically modified plant by removing genetic information from an organism, manipulating it in the laboratory and then transferring it into a plant to change certain of its characteristics.  The source of the genetic information can be any living organism.

54.  Why do we need plant biotechnology?  Don't we already produce more food than we can market?

Food production is not secure everywhere in the world-especially as we look at future population growth.  Not all familiar foods are nutritionally adequate. We can increase the nutritional quality, make plants drought tolerant, or make plants capable of growing in high salt soil.  We can also produce plants that can protect themselves from insects or disease with less environmental impact. Many of the desired modifications for flavor, color, shipping and storage quality can be enhanced through plant biotechnology.  Farmers gain from decreased cost of production, use of less pesticides and/or more environmentally friendly pesticides.

55.  Will pests develop resistance to the biotech crop innovations? 

This is one of the issues on which both the Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency require scientific research before commercialization can proceed.  These agencies establish cultural practices that are designed to slow the development of resistance. These include the concept of a "refuge" areas in biotech fields, which are planted with insect-susceptible crops..  Some insectswill feed in the traditional crop area, serving as a source of susceptible genetic insect mates and slowing the development of resistant pests. Each biotech application is approved on a case by case basis so that specific precautions can be designed to mitigate the development of problems.

56.  Will cross-pollination make for resistant weeds (superweeds) or destroy food sources for beneficial insects. 

Each plant biotech application is researched for this issue.  Of course for natural pollination to occur, the same plant family would have to be in the vicinity of the biotech crop being grown.  The life cycle of the two plants would have to coincide for pollination to take place.  If cross-pollination did occur, will the pollination result in harm?  It depends on the nature of the gene.  In the case of an organic farmer, it might result in problems since they do not allow genes introduced by biotechnology to be in their crops.  If the gene is responsible for herbicide tolerance, it could result in a closely related variety becoming herbicide tolerant.  If this variety is a weed, it could mean that the grower has to change weed control strategies.  But farmers have had to deal with these types of issues with traditional plants, pests and spray drift and have developed methods to mitigate their effects.

57.  Is a "Terminator Gene" being used to prevent farmers from re-planting their harvested seeds? 

No.  At this time there is no such gene being used in the biotech commercial crops.  Someday it may be desirable to incorporate such sterile seed technology to give added assurance that cross-pollination is not going to occur.  However, several factors stopped the development of the so-called "terminator gene",including concern over farmers in developing nations not being able to replant their seed and having to purchase seed from companies each year.

58.  Are Organic foods better?  Is Organic farming better? Why not grow only Organic? 

Organic is an alternative method of food production.  Published scientific research does not support that organic food is safer, more nutritious or even has more flavor, although there have been claims to this effect.  The selection of the variety, proper growing practices, and harvest time may be contributingto some of the testimonials.  Home gardening is usually not about economics of production, thus growing organic or "almost organic" gives a family many benefits such as exercise, assurance of growing their food as they like it, and something the family can do together. Many people buy organic believing they will be less exposed to pesticides since certain pesticides cannot be used in organic production.  One of the issues for many is that commercial organic production is not as efficient as other types of food production, thereby potentially requiring more land toproduce the same amount of food. 
Source: http://www.nbiap.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm 
59. What are some examples of agricultural products based on recombinant DNA technology?

Biotechnology also includes recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques used to combine different pieces of DNA in a test-tube. The DNA itself can come from anywhere. Plants developed using rDNA methods are variously referred to as GM or genetically modified organisms (GMO). GM soy and corn were commercialized in the mid-1990’s, with most varieties containing genes conferring tolerance to herbicides such as Roundup and resistance to certain insect pests. GM varieties of other crop plants have since been commercialized, including cotton, canola, papaya, squash, and recently, alfalfa. In other instances, microbes have been modified using rDNA techniques to produce various compounds used as pesticides, vaccines, or livestock feed supplements.

60. How are GM crops produced?

GM crops possess novel traits controlled by genes that weremanipulated using rDNA techniques and then inserted into plants. The process of inserting genes into plants is done using a naturally occurring microbe called Agrobacterium tumefaciens, or by shooting gene-coated micro-particles into plant cells. Plants shown to have incorporated the new genes undergo extensive testing to verify that the inserted genes function as intended and are safe. Federal agencies such as APHIS, FDA, or EPA give their approval before GM products are released commercially. In addition, most GM crops involve several generations of conventional breeding to move the inserted genes from laboratory varieties into commercially valuable germplasm that has a history of safe use.

61. How do these methods compare to production of crops by conventional breeding?

 GM technology allows precise manipulations of small numbers of specific genes, whereas conventional breeding typically involves many genes all at once. For many years, breeders were limited by the reservoir of naturally-occurring variants they could tap, usually by crossing domesticated or wild varieties. In more recent years, breeders have used chemicals or radioactivity to induce new mutations, and thereby increase the size of the reservoir they could draw on. Most induced mutations are undesirable, but by growing large numbers of plants, breeders can pick and choose among the small fraction that appear potentially useful. Results are unpredictable, and extensive follow-up testing is therefore required. Even so, such methods are considered to be a tool of conventional breeding and are thereby unregulated.

62. What novel traits do GM crops possess?

 In today’s markets, most GM crops are herbicide tolerant, or resistant to insect or disease pests, or have a combination of these traits. A variety of tomato (Flavr-Savr), modified for increased shelf life, was available for a short while, but was removed from the market for commercial reasons. Crop plants with better nutritional qualities are being developed, as are other plants capable of producing industrial compounds and pharmaceutical products.

63. Why are GM crops controversial?

 As new technologies are introduced, new uncertainties are born, and GM crops are no exception. People have expressed concerns about short and longterm health effects, environmental impacts, and inadvertent release transgenes through seeds or pollen. All new GM crops are thoroughly tested prior to release—far more so than conventionally bred crops. But the system of regulation is still evolving, both in the US and elsewhere in the world.

Source: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/orb/sites/default/files/OSU_Biotech_FAQ_Sheetv2.pdf

 64. What exactly has Bt cotton done to the economics of the small farmer in India?

 Let me quote from a recent study by Ashok Malkarnekar, Hermann Waibel and Diemuth Pemsl of the Chair of Agricultural and Development Economics, School of Management and Economics, Hannover, Germany. The three distinguished researchers made a comparative study of Bt and Non Bt cotton farmers in Karnataka. The study reveals that while the Bt farmers did get a marginally higher yield, the cost of getting this improved yield was so high that they ended up making less money! Thus, while the gross margin for non-Bt farmers worked out to Rs.10,880 per hectare, the margin for Bt farmers was a paltry Rs.1435. In other words, non-Bt farmers were earning 7.5 times more than Bt farmers.

Source: http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/nov/agr-spinge.htm

65. What is “Biopharming”?

"Biopharming" is an experimental application of biotechnology in which genetic engineering (GE) is used to create plants that can produce pharmaceutical proteins and chemicals. In spite of this enhancement, biopharm crops are virtually indistinguishable from edible varieties.
Pharmaceutical and biotech corporations see biopharming as a less expensive way to produce large quantities of pharmaceutical chemicals and other potent, biologically active substances. Corporations do not typically disclose the types of chemicals that are being developed—they classify this information as "confidential business information"—but we do know that plants have been engineered to produce a contraceptive, potent growth hormones, a blood clotter, blood thinners, industrial enzymes, vaccines, and pharmaceutical chemicals used for the treatment of severe diarrhea. Some 400 biopharm products are reportedly in the pipeline.

Hundreds of open-air field trials have already been conducted in unidentified locations across the United States. Corn is by far the most popular substrate plant for biopharming, followed by soybeans, tobacco and rice.

Source: http://www.grinningplanet.com/2005/03-22/biopharming-genetic-engineering-article.htm

66. What is plant tissue culture?

This is a term used to describe the range of procedures used to maintain and grow plant tissues and organs (stems, roots, embryos) in aseptic (sterile) cultures. Plant tissue culture is widely used for the in vitro vegetative propagation of plants in a process known as micropropagation.

67. How is micropropagation carried out?

A small piece of plant tissue (explant) is taken from the donor plant and cultured on a nutrient medium in sterile containers. By altering the composition of the medium and the environmental conditions (temperature, light regime, etc.) the development of this piece of tissue can be directed along different patterns and finally the whole plant can be regenerated. The offspring all come from a single plant and thus have identical genetic make-ups to each other and to the mother plant. They are thus called clones.

68. What are the advantages of micropropagation over the conventional method of growing plants?

It is a fast method of propagation, producing thousands of plantlets in a matter of months. 
Healthy plant material is ensured since soil and disease-causing organisms are excluded during the propagation cycle. 
The method is programmable to meet specific targets of time and quantity because it is independent of seasonal changes and the weather. 
Micropropagation saves an enormous amount of care usually required by cuttings and seedlings (watering, weeding, spraying etc.) 
Excess material produced can often be stored over long periods 
Species and cultivars can be stored in small spaces.

69. What are the constituents of tissue culture nutrient media?

  • Water
  • Inorganic salts
  • Plant growth regulators
  • Vitamins
  • Amino acids
  • Carbon sources
  • Solidifying agents (in case of a solid medium)

70. How can we ensure that the plants produced from tissue culture are free from viruses?

This can be achieved by developing a biophysical, immunological and molecular-technique based virus-diagnosis programme, and molecular-based quality control programme for the plant species of interest. Immunodiagnosis is the most useful technique using polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies raised against viruses. Polyclonal antibodies are now available in the country for groups of viruses such as potyviruses, tospoviruses, tobamoviruses, potexviruses, luteoviruses, badnaviruses, closteroviruses, etc. These polyclonal antibodies have been very useful in the identification of specific viruses and their strains, and for plant virus diagnosis.

71. How do plant growth regulators affect plant morphogenesis in culture?

Two plant growth regulators affect plant differentiation: 
Auxins: Stimulate root development
Cytokinins: Stimulates shoot development
Generally, the ratio of these two hormones can determine plant development:
Auxin> cytokinin = Root development
Cytokinin> auxin = Shoot development
Auxin = Cytokinin = Callus development

72. What is organogenesis?

Organogenesis: The process of initiation and development of a structure that shows natural organ form and/or function.

73. What is embryogenesis?

Embryogenesis: The process of initiation and development of embryos or embryo-like structures from somatic cells (somatic embryogenesis).

74. What are the various stages of micropropagation?

Stage 0 – Selection and preparation of the mother plant – Sterilization of the plant tissue takes place
Stage I - Initiation of culture – Explant placed into growth media
Stage II – Multiplication – Explant transferred to shoot media; shoots can be constantly divided
Stage III – Rooting – Explant transferred to root media
Stage IV - Transfer to soil – Explant returned to soil; hardened off

75. What is embryo rescue technique?

It is an in vitro technique in which the embryo (resulting from a wide hybridization where fertilization occurred, but embryo development did not occur) is cultured. 
Its merits are:
– Rescues F1 hybrid from a wide cross
– Overcomes seed dormancy, usually with addition of hormone to media (GA)
– Overcomes immaturity in the seed
– To speed generations in a breeding program
– To rescue a cross or self (valuable genotype) from a dead or dying plant

Source: http://dbtmicropropagation.nic.in/


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