Did you know the United States agriculture industry is worth roughly $165 billion? Farming and agriculture are crucial to our modern way of life, but plant care isn’t easy. Plant biotechnology is one of the many advancements we’ve made to make botany easier to handle.
But what is biotechnology, and is it as complex as the name seems? If you’re curious about plant science, we’re happy to help guide you. Read on to learn about plant biotechnology and its place in plant care.
What Is Plant Biotechnology?
To begin, let’s look at the term and what it entails.
The USDA defines biotechnology as a set of techniques used to help adapt plants toward specific needs. These needs are various and depend on the method in question.
For example, genetic engineering is a popular field of biotechnology. The strategy is often used to make food larger, more nutritious, or more plentiful.
Biotechnology can also help cross-pollinate some types of plants, such as flowers or fruits. These experiments can yield new species that become staples. Grapefruits, limes, oranges, and lemons are all man-made hybrids using these strategies.
Reasons for Genetic Engineering
What leads to the need for biotechnology? Several factors will influence us to begin experimentation.
These four reasons are considered some of the most important and common. However, many reasons aren’t on this list.
We may begin engineering to create new pest control methods, better medicines, and more. While these four are the core motivators, we encourage you to seek further reasons to better understand the field.
Large Scale Production
The first factor is large-scale production. You’ll find this motivation most commonly in agriculture, farming, and other industries.
The primary use of agriculture is to feed society. While walking through a grocery store, you can get some idea of the breadth of production we need to develop produce.
Naturally-occurring plants don’t generate food at the scale we need. As such, we’ve developed genetically modified organisms from existing plants. These GMOs are responsible for the majority of our food.
Another factor isn’t solely to scale our production up. GMOs are used when we have a limited supply of a plant.
The purpose for increasing supply isn’t always food. We may improve our supply for research, medicine, or exports. Feeding animals, such as cattle or pigs, is another effective use.
The third reason is to help solve natural impurities. Many plants have impurities that occur naturally, which makes them unfit for human consumption.
One company working toward this is the 22nd Century Group. Their 22nd Century Tobacco aims to reduce the harm caused by smoking.
Plant biotechnology is used to make their cigarettes contain 95% less nicotine. As a result, they’re an effective tool for quitting cigarettes or reducing your intake.
Countless other effects can be found on how botany can make plants lose their undesired traits. The benefit exists in all fields that use plants.
Finally, the fourth motivator for improving plants is the high cost. Some plants are at a higher cost than is feasible to produce.
These costs aren’t always financial. For example, some plants require thorough terraforming or wide swathes of land. The real estate that such plants take up can damage the environment or is sometimes better used for construction.
Others may be plants that are highly costly on a financial level for a limited supply. Some plants naturally take significantly longer to grow, making them more expensive.
Biotechnology is used to make plants need less room, grow quicker, or any other feature. As a result, these plants become cheaper, healthier, and easier to access.
Uses of Biotechnology
Now that we know the four factors that will encourage biotechnology, we can look at how these factors affect use. Here are some of the ways that biotechnology accomplishes its goals.
One of the main uses of biotechnology is to help food be more nutritious and filling. In regards to difficulties with food supply or agricultural production, this is the most important method.
For example, have you ever seen a naturally occurring banana? Before genetic modifications, bananas were small and had seeds in the center. They were bitter and generally unpleasant to eat for modern tastes (though many enjoyed them centuries ago).
To make them more fit for mass production and feeding society, they were made larger and more plentiful. There are now more than 1,000 different types of bananas in production.
Better Forms of Farming
Biotechnology isn’t always directed solely at plants. Many methods of botany involve finding better ways to farm.
Biotechnology may be employed to find a way to make a better fertilizer. Rotating crops can help in plant care to replenish nutrients in the soil.
Another example is hydroculture, a method of growing plants without soil. Some forms of hydroculture use plants that can withstand high amounts of water for pest control. Rice is often grown in flooded fields to counter pests, as the rice plants can withstand the water with ease.
Some farms have ponds filled with fish that fertilize the plants and provide pest control. As a result, plants help filter toxins and oxygenate the water for the fish.
Finally, biotechnology is used to make plants more able to withstand the elements.
Recently, farms in California began experimenting with drought-resistant plants. As climate change worsens, California is foreseen to lose more than half a million acres of farmable land to drought.
Developing plants that can withstand severe weather or pests is a great use of plant biotechnology. Another common use is making plants last longer or pulling fewer nutrients from the soil.
Food for Thought
Plant biotechnology is critical to developing healthier, longer-lasting agricultural products. Plant science can improve our botany practices, develop new plant care techniques, and enhance our farming methods.
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