Agricultural Applications

Plant researchers are using genetic engineering to develop new strains of plants called genetically modified (GM) crops. In a world of exponentially increasing human population, the need for more food with better nutritional value presents a challenge to plant biologists.

Increasing Yields and Improving Nutrition

To feed the planet's hungry population, biologists have made crop plants that are more tolerant to environmental conditions. They have also added genes to strains of wheat, cotton, and soybeans that make the plants resistant to weed-controlling chemicals called herbicides. To increase the amount of food a crop will yield, researchers have transferred genes for proteins that are harmful to insects and other pests into crop plants. The plants are protected from serious damage and yield more food. Similar techniques have been used to make plants resistant to certain diseases.

Genetic engineers have also been able to improve the nutritional value of many crop plants. For example, in Asia many people use rice as a major food source, yet rice has low levels of iron and beta carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A. As a result, millions suffer from iron and vitamin A deficiencies. Genetic engineers have added genes to rice to overcome these deficiencies.

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