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Environmental Implications and the Potential of Biotechnology

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Biotechnology is about using living organisms or substances from living organisms to modify or to redesign a living product for achieving practical benefits. Genetic engineering or recombinant DNA techniques are now being widely used to breed plants to increase crop yields, improve plant resistance to disease or weather conditions such as low temperature and to enhance the nutritional content of foods from crops. Biotechnology is also being used to improve crop planting practices, design living species that minimize waste and to develop species that mature relatively quickly. However, biotechnology is more than genetic engineering and genomics, which is the study of DNA sequences associated with living species, assists with the understanding of how living organisms function within their ecosystem and the manner in which selective breeding is possible.

Biotechnology has been used to improve the yield of pearl millet in India before a particular species of the crop succumbs to a downy mildew epidemic. The availability of disease-free banana species to poor farmers in Kenya also depends on what was made possible as a result of the use of biotechnology. Other examples of what biotechnology can do for agriculture include the development of crop species that are more tolerant of acid soils, making it possible to increase yields in soils that could not have supported decent agriculture. Nutritionally enhanced crops that can be developed using biotechnology can assist with improving the nutrition intake of those who depend on staple foods such as rice, cassava, bean, maize or wheat etc.

Apart from agriculture, biotechnology is also being used to develop more beneficial fish and livestock species and better foods that provide superior nutrition for these animals.

Biotechnology has also made it possible to develop better vaccines for animals and far more effective diagnostic techniques.

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