Biotechnology as a Solution to Hunger


SEATTLE — A potential solution to the problem of hunger lies in biotechnology. Biotechnology refers to an array of tools and applications allowing scientists to manipulate the genetic material of plants, animals and microbes. These practices give scientists the ability to modify characteristics that pass from one generation to another.

Biotechnology tools consist of gene cloning, tissue culture, microbial culture, DNA marker technology and genetic engineering. This genetic engineering is the most controversial because it is the method that develops genetically modified organisms.

Transgenic crops received specific attention. This type of crop combines genetic material obtained through the most modern biotechnology. This genetically modifying technology allows plant breeders to bring useful genes together and combine them into one plant. Genetically modifying technology is a much faster way to help build resistance to diseases and pests or drought and waterlogging. It provides reinforcement for crops while also increasing their nutritional value. This ultimately yields better quality food and nutrients as well as more overall crop.

Golden rice is one important advancement from biotechnology genetic engineering. It is a genetically modified strain of rice that has genes from viruses and daffodils spliced into its genetic instructions. The rice is a yellow color because of the daffodil which produces beta-carotene converted into vitamin A. Approximately 350,000 children go blind from a lack of vitamin A. Additionally, one million children die every year from vitamin A deficiencies, so this rice, as well as other vitamin-packed foods, could make a great impact.

In Costa Rica, a coffee baron had to lay off hundreds of workers when a fungus spoiled all of the harvests. In Nebraska, a cornhusker lost his crop to a severe drought. Diseases and climate not only inhibit crop growth but cause workers to lose their only source of income. Biotechnology, especially the most modern and efficient methods, could help solve these issues through hybrid breeding.

A new method for hybrid breeding has made biologists and geneticists confident that they can launch a Green Revolution. The CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool allowing scientists to zero in on one single gene, turning it on or off. They can also remove and replace genes more efficiently than ever before with CRISPR-Cas9. These plants could survive in nature’s harsh conditions allowing people to keep their jobs as well as the whole of their harvest. It could also result in a more nutritious yield from fewer plants.

The truth is that biotechnology is a viable solution to hunger, but it is being wrongfully exploited by companies like Monsanto. These companies launched millions of dollars in marketing campaigns that drew focus and funds away from the actual crop production. The countries that should benefit most from these companies end up benefiting the least. Genetically modified food is cheaper to grow and extends expiration time. The controversy around them has more to do with social and political issues rather than the success of biotechnology.

The exploitation has been used to improve large-scale cash crops like cotton and soy but little investments have been placed in crops like millet and cassava which have greater impacts on poorer nations. Greater investments in smaller-scale community farmers would produce modest financial returns and more focus on crop production. Genetic modification is already the fastest way to produce specific beneficial traits in crops. The problem lies in exploitation and bias. There must be a method devised allowing biotechnology to be focused on in poorer regions, with both political and social support, in order to solve problems of hunger.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Google


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