Friday, 25 May 2012

Adapt or Perish: Genetic Engineering of Plants.

Olivia McKay                         s4204543

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative. (Wells,1866). As we all know, climate change and global warming has drastically changed the earth’s environment. Rising CO2 levels have been complemented by an increase in more toxic and environmentally damaging gases such as ozone, nitrous oxide and methane. This can have an extremely undesirable effect on environmental factors that impact on the health and sustainability of plants.

Abiotic stress refers environmental stressors that negatively influence plant health. The negative impact that both climate and atmospheric changes can have on a plant’s abiotic stress, highlighting that high stress levels in plants can result in shorter plant life, a decline in seed production and an acceleration of the maturation process. The research of abiotic stress in plants aims to identify how plants adapt to environments that cause stress and using this information develop plants that have a greater ability to sense, react to and tolerate abiotic stresses.

One approach to increasing plant tolerance to abiotic stress is to target specific genes from organisms that are able to withstand extreme environmental conditions. For example genes from dessert flowers are added to other plants in order to increase their resistance to heat and drought. However it has been discovered that the resistance genes that can be inserted into plants do not exclusively have to be genes from other plant genomes. One example of this is the insertion of antifreeze genes from fish into tomato plants.

Scientist studied fish that live in arctic water and are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures. The antifreeze gene responsible for the fish’s tolerance to freezing temperatures was identified and removed from the chromosome.

The gene was then added to the plasmid and the recombinant DNA is then placed inside a bacterium. After reproducing multiple times, the bacteria containing the antifreeze gene infects regular tomato cells. This produces tomato cells that contain the antifreeze gene from the fish. The plants produced by this genetic modification can now withstand cold temperatures and frosts.


 Though incredible, this research has proved controversial to religious institutions, sceptics and vegetarians, alike. It is suggested by scientists that future study should focus on field research and the effects of the genetic manipulations in a variety of environments.  There is a great difference between a controlled laboratory setting and the unpredictability of a natural environment and the effects of this should be considered in prospective research.  


Kearsey, M. J. The principles of QTL analysis (a minimal mathematics approach). Journal of Experimental Botany 49, 1619–1623 (1998)

Mittler, R. & Blumwald, E. Genetic Engineering for Modern Agriculture: Challenges and Perspectives. The Annual Review of Plant Biology 61, 443-456 (2010)

BBC, GM science. (2003)

H. G. Wells, 2012,, viewed March 19, 2012,

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