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Plant biotechnology


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Plant pathogen diagnosis, genome mapping, biodiversity of plants in agriculture/horticulture

High productivity levels associated with modern agriculture depend heavily on protection of the crop species against competition from weeds and attack by viruses, fungi and predatory insects. Even a few weeds per hectare, or a minor insect or fungus infestation, can markedly reduce agricultural yields and, consequently, farmers incomes. Since the late 1940s, weeds, pathogens, and predatory insects have been controlled by extensive use of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides. Serious questions are being raised about the carryover of these agricultural chemicals into the food chain and their potentially harmful effects on consumers and the ecosystem. The heavy use of herbicides also had some undesirable side effects, not least of which is a dramatic rise in the number of species exhibiting herbicide resistance. The advent of genetic engineering presents opportunities for novel methods of plant protection against such pests with decreased reliance on potentially dangerous chemical controls. One of them is plant biotechnology.

The development of herbicide-resistant cultivars of crop species has the potential to be commercially as well as environmentally significant, because they allow farmers to control herbicide-sensitive weeds with a single application of herbicide after the resistant crop plants have germinated and begun to grow. Another strategy is to achieve the herbicide resistance by overexpression of tolerant enzymes. Insects and plant diseases are responsible for annual crop losses in excess of 10 to 15 percent worldwide. To date, the most successful approach to engineering insect resistance exploits naturally occurring bacterial enterotoxins. Strategies based on the natural defense system are synthesis of pathogenesis related proteins (for example chitinase) or a form of “vaccination“ (cultured plant cells have been transformed with a cDNA clone for a coat protein of the virus).

Herbicide, insect and disease resistance is one of the areas where biotechnology is having an impact. Many crop species genetically engineered to exhibit resistance to specific herbicides or insects are now in commercial production in several countries. Genetic engineering becomes one of the most important and progressive biotechnologies in the 21st century.

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