Friday, 18 May 2012

Transgenic Crops
By Anthony Ton

With a constantly growing worldwide population it is important that there is enough food for everyone but with the unpredictable weather changes, failing crops and price increases it is becoming increasingly difficult for everyone to get what they want. My parents have always tried to grow their own food naturally in our backyard to save money and be sure we know what we’re eating. But it wasn’t as easy to grow as we thought because of insects that were constantly having a banquet on our vegetables and weeds that found it fun to share soil and water.
It is seen that over 30% of crops are attacked by insects or weeds and sometimes this figure is much higher in developing countries (Christou & Capell, 2009). So how do farmers who own massive fields of crops ensure the security of their crops? Why aren’t crops affected by the herbicides? If insecticides are used doesn’t it become harmful to us directly or indirectly (biomagnification)? The answer to this is in genetically modified plants and crops.
Crops can be genetically modified to resist and tolerate herbicides or insects themselves. Farmers can spray their herbicides all over their crops and not directly harm them as they are resistant towards the herbicide, while the weeds which have not been modified will be killed. To counter the pestering insects, the crops are altered so that they produce a Bt toxin which creates holes in the plasma membrane of the insect’s cells and thereby killing them. This toxin is only dangerous to insects but this modification is still not used in many countries due to human consumption safety concerns (Christou & Capell, 2009).
Genetically modified crops are created through 4 steps:
1.       The DNA of bacteria with the desired characteristics are extracted. The bacteria can be found or cultured, either way they must have interacted with a counter factor (herbicides) or the biotic constraint (insects) to have grown a resistance to it.
2.       The genes that show characteristics of resistance isolated.
3.       The desired gene or gene sequence is then extracted from the bacteria’s DNA and added to the genetic material of an undifferentiated root cell.
4.       These root cells are cultured which allow them to divide and grow until they are able to be introduced into plants or seeds.
5.       These plants that now have the desired genes can now breed with other plants allowing for the passing on of the desired genes to the next generation of plants.
(Pigbin, 2003)

Figure 1 - Process of creating Genetically modified plants
(Pigbin, 2003)

It is important to continue research ways to protect food security and enable food sustainability as the biotic constraints can build resistance to the crop’s counter measures. For example, Insects which follow r-strategies can easily adapt to changes and thus can build a resistance to the toxins. Without proper counter measures food shortages could become apparent and economies could collapse.

Works Cited

Christou, P., & Capell, T. (2009). Environmental impacts of genetically modified crops. CABI.
National Farmers’ Federation (NFF). (2011, January 19). New reference reveals facts about Australian farming. Retrieved March 18, 2012, from nynganobserver:

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