Biotechnology has revolutionized the world of agriculture. By harnessing the science of genetic engineering and other biotechnological methods, farmers can produce higher-yielding crops resistant to disease and pests. This not only leads to greater crop yields but also helps to improve environmental health.
Image Credit: Lamyai/Shutterstock.com
The close association of agriculture and biotechnology
Biotechnology refers to technologies that use biological systems to develop or create products. Therefore, biotechnologies are the intersection of nature and human activities since it is our attempt at harnessing biology for human function. Biotechnology has advanced every sector of human activity, from developing synthetic insulin to refining industrial processes.
Agriculture is one such sector that has benefited greatly from biotechnology. From genetically engineered crops to species-specific pesticides, biotechnology has helped improve food security on multiple fronts. Moreover, as technology advances, the links between agriculture and biotechnology are becoming increasingly apparent.
Specifically, biotechnological processes can help farmers produce higher yields with less effort and resources. With new developments in genetic engineering, plant breeding, and soil management, biotechnology plays an essential role in modern farming practices. As a result of this relationship, farmers have access to better tools and techniques to increase their productivity while also protecting the environment.
Agricultural biotechnology in an era of climate change
Looking into the future, agriculture will continue benefiting from biotechnological innovation. A particularly significant element will be how biotechnologies may contribute towards a more sustainable, ecologically mindful, yet productive agricultural system that is able to mitigate the consequences of global climate change. This will be challenging due to the growth of the human population requiring greater food productivity.
The issue of agricultural sustainability and the role of biotechnologies in resolving some of the aspects of this issue was discussed by Munawar et al. (2020). The authors discussed how genomics, genetic engineering, and genome editing would be central to developing sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. For instance, developing drought-resistant crops with greater nutritional value and faster reproductive cycles may offer some elements of protection from environmental impacts.
As a result, biotechnological tools can ensure the sustainability of crops and help farmers meet the growing food demands of a rapidly expanding population.
Prospects and implications of biotechnological applications in agriculture
The current biotechnological trends in agriculture are closely associated with spatiotemporal scales. This is not exclusive to biotechnology as smart technologies integrating data collected by satellite data, and nano environmental sensors are being used to inform management decisions across agricultural sectors. Therefore, the refinement of spatiotemporal scales aligns with trajectories from innovations across agriculture.
One such example is the emergence of cellular agriculture which is discussed in a 2020 study by Rischer et al., which discussed the potential for lab-grown meat, plants, and microbes as alternatives to the current unsustainable food production methods. The authors discussed the promising dietary candidates as well as the use of microbes that can be processed to form biosynthetic materials. The study concludes by presenting the avenues for success in the coming years for cultured food, cosmetics, and materials, including harnessing structural properties to produce safe, sustainable, and standardized products.
Further insights into potential innovations were presented by Zhao et al. (2020) in a study discussing the use of nano-biotechnology in agriculture. The review provides a case study of nanoparticles that can be delivered through leaves, hydroponics, or soil to enhance plant resistance to stress and improve plant growth. Authors assemble information on the types, properties, and concentrations of nanoparticles and their effects on plant growth and abiotic (salinity, drought, heat, high light, and heavy metals) as well as biotic (pathogens and herbivores) stressors.
The ability to alter the physiochemical properties of crops through nano-scale technologies demonstrates the potential for biotechnology in agriculture. In the coming decades, our understanding of molecular processes will further accelerate our capacity to improve sustainable agriculture practices. Ultimately, these technologies will support food security in a world with growing human populations and unpredictable environmental changes.
Agricultural Biotechnology: How Are GMO Plants Made?
Lack of standardization and scale effects; how biotechnology is currently limited in agriculture
Biotechnology represents a promising sector to advance agricultural productivity through integrated technologies, molecular manipulations, and a better understanding of biological systems overall. However, certain hurdles may hinder the progress and implementation of biotechnologies in agriculture. These issues emerged with the first genetically engineered crops yet remain today and were mentioned in the review by Rischer et al. (2020).
Although biotechnology as a discipline is a century old, modern biotechnological tools and their application to agriculture are still in their infancy. This makes balanced regulations and international standardization challenging, and countries have adopted varying stances on genetically modified foods, for instance. As a result, international institutions have had limited success in standardizations, with companies acting as major drivers of investment, intellectual property development, and commercialization.
Further issues also challenge biotechnological progress on broad scales, such as the focus on innovations in controlled greenhouse conditions to develop crop strains or genetically engineered animals. Little is known of the evolutionary and ecological implications of genetic modifications, how it affects ecosystems and other animals, or how they may evolve. Nonetheless, the financial, agricultural, and scientific interests in biotechnology make it the most exciting dimension of modern agriculture.
- Mattick, C. S. (2018). Cellular agriculture: The coming revolution in food production. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74(1), 32–35. https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2017.1413059
- Munawar, S., ul Qamar, M. T., Mustafa, G., Khan, M. S., & Joyia, F. A. (2020). Role of Biotechnology in Climate Resilient Agriculture. Environment, Climate, Plant and Vegetation Growth, 339–365. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-49732-3_14
- Pingali, P. L. (2012). Green Revolution: Impacts, limits, and the path ahead. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(31), 12302–12308. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0912953109 Rischer, H., Szilvay, G. R., & Oksman-Caldentey, K. M. (2020). Cellular agriculture — industrial biotechnology for food and materials. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 61, 128–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copbio.2019.12.003
- Zhao, L., Lu, L., Wang, A., Zhang, H., Huang, M., Wu, H., Xing, B., Wang, Z., & Ji, R. (2020). Nano-Biotechnology in Agriculture: Use of Nanomaterials to Promote Plant Growth and Stress Tolerance. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 68(7), 1935–1947. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.9b06615