Depending on which genes are transferred, agricultural biotechnology can protect crops from disease, increase their yield, improve their nutritional content, or reduce pesticide use. In 2000, more than half of American soybeans and cotton and one-fourth of American corn crops were genetically modified by modern biotechnology techniques. Genetically modified foods may also help people in developing countries. One in five people in the developing world do not have access to enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. By enhancing the nutritional value of foods, biotechnology can help improve the quality of basic diets.
"Golden rice" is a form of rice engineered to contain increased amounts of vitamin A. Researchers are also developing rice and corn varieties with enriched protein contents, as well as soybean and canola oils with reduced saturated fat. Other potential benefits include crops that can withstand drought conditions or high salinity, allowing populations living in harsh regions to farm their land.
Agricultural biotechnology also provides benefits for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products. Because plants do not carry human diseases, plant-made vaccines and antibodies require less screening for bacterial toxins and viruses. In addition to plants, animals may also be engineered to produce beneficial genes. In order to produce large quantities of monoclonal antibodies for research on new therapeutic drugs, several companies have genetically engineered cows and goats to secrete antibodies into their milk. One company has inserted a spider gene into dairy goats. The spider silk extracted from the goat's milk is expected to produce fibers for bulletproof vests and medical supplies, such as stitch thread, and other applications where flexible and extremely strong fibers are required.
- Agricultural Biotechnology - Concerns
- Agricultural Biotechnology - Techniques
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