As the world population grows and the demand for nutritious food grows, agricultural productivity is challenged by poor farmlands and climate change. Of all the challenges, adverse climatic conditions seem to negatively impact agricultural productivity, food security, production stability, and income the most. Given this backdrop, agricultural productivity needs to increase by 65% to meet the food demand.
Genetic modification can be the flagbearer of crop improvement as it can develop climate-resilient crop varieties. Developing and adopting innovative crops backed by science is required to mitigate climate change and for sustainable agriculture.
What are GM Crops?
Genetically modified crops are plants with their DNA altered to create desired traits, typically by adding one gene from a close wild relative.
GM crops are developed to enhance traits, it could be drought resistant or pest or disease resistant. Globally, scientists are using GMOs to help farmers prevent crop loss. In addition to making some of our most valuable food crops more resilient to climate change, study shows that it has also helped in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving fossil fuel.
Benefits of GM Crops
GM crops are enabling farmers to protect their produce from various biotic and abiotic stresses. GMO crops offer farmers better yields that can also be resilient to droughts and floods. There are various benefits that a farmer can reap using GMO crops in the field:
· Herbicide tolerance
· Tolerance to plant pathogens
· Protection against insect damage
· Less water consumption
· Optimum nutrition
· Low carbon footprint
Above all, the farmers reap higher profits in terms of lower inputs which most conventional crops cannot offer.
India should Embrace GM Crops
Despite being agricultural land, India continues to face major challenges when it comes to its agriculture output. Over the last 15 years, biotechnology has enabled approximately 17 million farmers to grow GM crops offering one of the most promising solutions for meeting the world’s food security.
Bt cotton’s spectacular success is evidence of the success of biotechnology in India. As with Bt cotton, a switch to high-yield oilseeds engineered specifically for India’s semi-arid zones can help reduce India’s dependence on imports just as Bt cotton allowed it to transition from being a net importer to a net exporter.
Moreover, mustard is one of the three largest oilseed crops in India, along with soybeans and groundnuts, but yields have stagnated for many years. The total edible oil consumption in India is nearly 22 million metric tons, while the domestic production is only about 10.65 million tons. Edible oil is India’s third-largest import item after crude oil and gold. Increasing the production of oilseeds, particularly mustard and soybean, is a wise idea for many reasons. In addition to one ton of oil, a farmer also produces a ton of cake, which is a protein-rich feed for animals. An Indian farmer’s dependency on pesticides can be reduced through biotechnology or using GM crops.
Research has shown that biotech crop’s adoption is three times as fast in developing countries as they do in industrialized ones.
However, besides enormous benefits, the GMO crop yet requires its fair share of recognition and acceptability in the consumer market. The urban consumer is open and aware of the multifaceted benefits of GM food and understands how well-suited it is for human health. It is now time that consumers demand such quality food so that farmers who want to grow them and are stuck due to regulatory lacunae can finally get the chance to grow them.
India is one of the largest exporters and consumers of rice. Still, Indian farmers have to incur losses due to drought, flood, continuous and intermittent rainfall, manual harvesting, etc. Nearly three billion people around the world eat rice as their main source of nutrition. It is responsible for generating about 20% of the calories consumed worldwide. Till now only golden rice has been developed by scientists that can help people with Vitamin A deficiency and the Philippines is the first country to approve the crop for commercial purposes. GMOs can develop rice suitable for severe climatic conditions.
Another example of a successful GMO crop is Soybean which is the highest exported crop from America. The GMO Soybean is spliced with the pigeon pea gene which makes it resistant to Asian soybean rust or ASR caused by fungus. This disease spreads quickly and can only be treated by the introduction of a fungi-resistant trait of another legume.
India introduced Bt cotton almost twenty years ago. Bt cotton is a genetically modified variety of cotton. Toxins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis are highly toxic and have been found to control bollworm larvae, which commonly attack cotton crops. In India, Bt cotton was introduced to reduce the amount of insecticide required for cotton farming. Since this plant was introduced, Bt cotton is widely used throughout India. The majority of Indian cotton is now Bt. It is estimated that 80% of cotton grown in each of India’s nine cotton-growing states is Bt cotton.
Cooking oil and margarine are primarily made from GMO canola. Animal feed can also be made from canola seed meals. Many packaged foods use canola oil to enhance the consistency of their food. American farmers benefit from GMO canola’s herbicide resistance, which helps them control weeds within their fields more easily.
As the world’s population and demand for food grow, farmers and growers must also deal with the problems nature throws at them. The traditional plant breeding methods still have their place. Researchers must develop crops resistant to pests, which can flourish even as the climate crisis develops. This will enable them to avoid food shortages in poorer countries especially. Easing out GMO regulations in India can bring favorable changes as the weather conditions become extreme shortly. GMOs can have positive effects, but regulatory frameworks should be strengthened so that the commercialization of GMOs does not suffer from delays. In several developing countries, GM crops are not yet allowed due to the lack of regulatory frameworks, or they are regulated excessively even when they have a defined framework. This example of Golden Rice illustrates how excessive regulations can delay a technological breakthrough for more than a decade. The delayed approach should not lead to an increase in poor statistics. As a result, regulators and political drivers in developing nations must take steps forward when it comes to approving these nutritious and safe crops.
Globalization has led to a knowledge-based economy, and intellectual property rights protection has become an important motivator for innovation. Agribusiness was not historically concerned with IPR, as farming was based on sharing knowledge. Yet, the last few decades have witnessed remarkable advances in agriculture. The development of genetically modified plant varieties and specialized insecticides for pest control warrants an examination of the IPR regime of developing nations, particularly India. This is to encourage the introduction of innovative agricultural practices.
Patent rights are particularly important for technological innovation. By extending the patent scope, and increasing the number of inventions that are patentable, the patent system becomes more useful to inventors and contributes to social welfare. This gives inventors an incentive to invest in research and development since patent rights provide exclusivity on the invention.
IPR in agriculture in India
IPR in agriculture are used to protect goods or services produced in agricultural sector and mainly deals with patents, plant breeder’s right, trademarks, geographical indications and trade secrets. India Patent Act 1970 and subsequent amendments to it provided patents for agricultural tools and machinery or theprocesses of development of agricultural chemicals. Till the beginning of 2005, only method inventions relating to substances prepared by chemical processes were patentable. Then Government of India passed the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act in 2001. It became the world’s only IPR legislation on plant varieties that recognised and protected the rights of both breeders as well as farmers maintaining traditional landraces. The PPV&FR Authority set up under the Act started functioning from 2005.
The PPV&FR Act entitles farmers to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell their produce, including seed from a protected variety, as long as they do not resort to branding or packaging of the variety for commercial purposes. At the same time, breeders have exclusive rights for the commercial production, sale, marketing, distribution and export of their protected varieties.
Further, any plant breeder or researcher can use a registered variety for conducting experiment and research, or as an initial source of genetic material (parent) for the purpose of developing another variety. This is acceptable so long as the protected variety isn’t used as parent repeatedly for the production of commercial seed, which requires the prior authorisation of the original breeder/farmer.
IPR protection could lead to a significant increase in agricultural production
Agricultural innovations include developing healthier, safer, and more nutritious food for humans and animals (for example, genetically modified seeds, new breeding techniques). In the agricultural sector, innovation drives productivity. However, there are grey areas in the Act which helps the unscrupulous to steal the varieties and develop substandard seeds which results in crop failure for the farmers.
Agriculture has made some remarkable advances in recent decades, especially in the transfer of beneficial traits into many crops that would otherwise face extinction due to diseases, droughts, and pests. With the help of resistant seed varieties, crops can provide greater yields while at the same time requiring fewer chemical fertilizers. It is particularly valuable for farmers in developing countries such as India. A significant contribution can be made to poverty reduction, malnutrition, food security, and disease control through the use of this part of agricultural innovation.
Farmers, researchers, private businesses, advisors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers, and many others are involved in guiding, supporting, creating, transferring, or adopting agricultural innovations, and also advising and informing farmers and the public about them.
The importance of intellectual property protection for agricultural innovation has grown over the last few decades in India. Even though investing in innovation is one of the primary drivers of economic growth, governments are constrained when it comes to funding innovative projects, including agricultural research and development. Crop innovation involves five stages – discovery, proof of concept, early development, advanced development and pre-launch which It can take between 10-15 years to develop commercially viable seeds. Hence, patent protection and regulatory compliance allow investors to make long-term investments in innovation. Consequently, IP rights have received increasing attention for supporting agricultural development, including foreign direct investment (FDI), technology transfer, trade, access to genetic resources and protection of traditional knowledge.
In addition, intellectual property rights, primarily patents, have enabled plant genomics research to grow. Researchers are using advanced genomics to identify, map, and understand the gene expression of crops and their relationship to agriculturally significant traits.
IP rights play a key role in enabling companies to attract investors and generate the returns necessary to recoup development costs and invest in further R&D.Lack of IP rights discourages innovators to invest such huge sum of money to a technology. A balance between protecting the IP rights of breeders and allowing the technology flow to benefit the farmers and the whole ecosystem has to be implemented. This can only happen when there are strict actions taken for unscrupulous activities that can harm not only the technology but farmers who are vulnerable to a crop failure. This is great setback for the genuine market players who started with the vison of empowering the farmers with a breakthrough product but ends up losing trust and a return on investment.
Feeding the world while minimizing our impact on the planet is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Reducing food loss and waste remains critical and needs a solution.
Half of the population around the world do not have enough food. As per a report by the United Nations, one third of food produced for human consumption globally goes to waste. Food waste is an important issue that consumers and farmers need to work together to resolve. Food waste also has a serious environmental ramification as it is a major source of methane gas when dumped in landfills.
The issue is complex, but many people might not realize that farmers can not only grow more food on less land through genetically modified crops. It can also help in reducing unnecessary food waste and minimize crop loss. Therefore, GMOs can play a key role in improving food security and sustainability in our global food system.
Unfortunately, unrealistic standards of beauty are also being applied on food. Consumers expect produce to look fresh, colorful and do not accept a fruit or vegetable with a slightest bruise on it. As a result, a large amount of fresh produce goes to waste every year. The FAO estimates that nearly half of all fruit and vegetable crops go to waste due to cosmetic issues. Genetically modified crops have enabled farmers to grow large quantities of crops that are resistant to such cosmetic issues.Biotechnology allows us to grow apples that do not bruise and do not brown. There are also potatoes that reduce the amount of bruising and black spots, meaning scarcely any go to waste.
GM crops are also developed to be disease and pest resistant, drought and flood resistant which means they are climate resilient. For GM crops that are resistant to insect damage, farmers can apply fewer spray pesticides to protect the crops. GM crops that are tolerant to herbicides help farmers control weeds without damaging the crops. When farmers use these herbicide-tolerant crops they do not need to till the soil, which they normally do to get rid of weeds. This no-till planting helps to maintain soil health, lower fuel and labor use.
Farmers who grow GM eggplants are earning more and have less exposure to pesticides. Countries are also working on several staple crops, such as virus-resistant cassava, insect-resistant cow pea, and blight-resistant potato.
Food waste and loss represent a serious challenge globally, one which requires engagement from different stakeholders if we are to ensure food security while simultaneously preserving the environment. GMOs can play a significant role to help us grow food sustainably. It is also important that consumers too,play an active role in reducing waste and conserving our natural resources.
The anti-GMO movement is characterized by overwhelming fallacies. The most common of these fallacies is the assumption that crops enhanced using biotechnology is an unnatural deviation from an otherwise pure state of nature. This idea is fundamentally flawed on a number of levels, yet it continues to be parroted by naysayers alike.
For many years, NGOs such as Sierra Club has been vocal about its concerns over crop biotechnology. The environmental group that refers to gene editing as a weapon of mass destruction recently overturned the GMO debate when it cautiously endorsed the release of a genetically engineered chestnut tree called “Darling 58.” A newer variety of chestnut trees which are bred to resist a fungal infection that has killed almost all-American Chestnuts.
Similarly, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) previously criticized the Impossible Burger but have recently come to support it after realizing its key ingredient is made with help from genetic engineering.
When organizations like the Sierra Club and UCS that are well-known for their opposition to biotechnology backtrack on the issue, it can be believed that the impact is substantial.
In Europe as well, the situation has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Europe suspended its biotech regulations in July 2020 amid the threat of a new infectious disease it didn’t want to fight against with outdated technology, making quite clear that the world’s assumption of genetic engineering having disastrous side effects, was completely wrong. Europe has not been a friend to genetically modified organisms in the past, but there are indications that its anti-GMO sentiment is beginning to weaken. One reason for this might be that biotechnology can help meet their sustainability goals. It is to be noted that while Europe is opposed to GM crop cultivation, they are the biggest importers of GM derived food.
Healthier soybean oil and non-browning apples are among the examples of genetically modified foods.Many products developed through biotechnology are recognized today in the form of new varieties including watermelons, eggplants, carrots, pineapple, papaya, bananas among others. GMO is a safe and effective way to improve crops for better quality food.
SARS-COV-2 became unstoppable shortly after it started spreading globally, and humans have realized that our way of life is very fragile and we will not be able to sustain ourselves in a world full of deadly diseases when we lose access to innovation (tools).
Food production could be said to work the same way. The anti-GMO movement is unlikely to disappear overnight. They have a great deal of sway in poorer regions of the world. However, they are also losing this debate in these places. In 2019 alone, 24 developing countries grew biotech crops. Biotech plants are grown in the developing world and 56 percent of all the plants grown in the world are genetically engineered.
The familiarity of consumers with new biotechnology tools such as CRISPR, GMO indicates that efforts to increase awareness of these technologies could help to accelerate their acceptance by consumers.All over the world scientists are working on ways to feed more people by using CRISPR. However, it will be the public acceptance and adoption by farmers that will play an important role in the success of this technology.
The UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly in New York aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 along with transforming the global food systems.
Nearly 18% of the planet’s population lives in India, making this summit of paramount importance for our nation. For the UN Food System Summit 2021, India has volunteered to participate in the Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods. As a part of this initiative, India will encourage stakeholders in agri-food systems to explore national pathways towards creating sustainable and equitable food systems in India, which can contribute to the transformation of global food systems in order to meet the growing needs of present and future generations. Additionally, India aims to eliminate poverty & hunger, ensuring nutrition security so that all people can eat healthy food, and ensure economic sustainability in food supply.
Along with a rise in population, climate change has an important role to play in the productivity. Drought, floods are rampant in India, and it has direct impact in the food supply chain, right from sowing, production, to supply. Adoption of technology and innovation in the sector has become a necessity but it has not turned to reality. Innovation in developing seeds with sturdy built to shield from unpredictable weather conditions and technologies to support its growth, storage for longer shelf life can help in transforming the food systems.
Biotechnology has been crucial in developing food products that have proven beneficial for the farmers and environment. As per a report by the PG Economics, with the adoption of GM crops between 1996 and 2018, an additional 824 million tonnes of food, feed and fiber has been produced worldwide. Farmers earned an extra US$225 billion in income by growing GM crops during that same period, while reducing the use of agricultural pesticides by 8.6 percent, resulting in a 19 percent cut in associated environmental impacts. The technology also helped reduce carbon emissions equal to taking 15.3 million cars off the road. Because GM crops increase yields, if they had not been available during that time some 24.2 million extra hectares of land would have been destroyed to make way for the same amount of crop production.
In 2002, the introduction and commercialization of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton (the only genetically modified crop in India so far) along with huge investments in R&D by private seed companies, ushered a Gene Revolution in the agricultural sector. This led to a breakthrough in cotton production, rising from 13.6 million bales in 2002-03 to 37.5 million bales in 2019-20, surpassing China in 2014-15 to become the largest cotton-producer in the world. The effect of fertilizers, Bt technology and insecticides contributed to 60, 23 and 17 percent of cotton yield, respectively in India. The benefit of Bt technology in cotton is estimated to be USD 84.7 billion (cumulatively between 2002-03 to 2018-19) through savings in imports of cotton as well as extra exports of raw cotton and yarn.
Modern biotechnologies involving gene editing and molecular biology have seen significant opportunities for crop improvement in the cereal crops – rice, maize, wheat and barley. Genome editing has been used to achieve important agronomic and quality traits in cereals. These include adaptive traits to mitigate the effects of climate change, tolerance to biotic stresses, higher yields, more optimal plant architecture, improved grain quality and nutritional content, and safer products. Not all traits can be achieved through genome editing, and several technical and regulatory challenges need to be overcome for the technology to realize its full potential.
Modern agricultural tools have the potential to significantly contribute to achieving the SDGs. Biotechnology can boost the quality and yield of agricultural products, thus achieving SDG-2-end hunger by making food more secure, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. It also plays an essential role in diagnosis and finding the right solutions to pause pests and diseases through several tools, therefore achieving SDG-3-Good Health and Well-Being.
Biotechnology is not a silver bullet, but it can help scale the SDGs. Multifaceted solutions are required for strengthening the food value chain in India. The evidence suggests, however, that improving crops through new tools such as gene editing can play an important role in a more comprehensive food security strategy.
The UNFSS 2021 acknowledges that consumer groups are an important stakeholder in this fight. Therefore, this group has the responsibility to understand and spread awareness on the benefits of nutrient rich food and should actively take part in adopting them. Agriculture biotechnology is just a value addition to get the best product out of the existing crops which can benefit the farmers, people and the planet.
Nutrition of the mother and child during the first 1000 days plays an important role in a child’s neurodevelopment and lifelong mental health. A child’s brain development depends on the number of calories their body receives during pregnancy and as a child.
In a recent study conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), 26.2 percent of Filipino children aged zero to two are chronically malnourished.
Undernutrition, hidden hunger or inadequate nutrient intake, and overweight constitute malnutrition in Philippines.Filipino children make up one third of the top ten countries in the world when it comes to stunting (low weight).Conditions such as low iron and iodine intake are still common among babies and pregnant women.Overweight and obesity are on the rise among children aged 11-19, with nearly half experiencing overweight or obesity.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects one in five Filipino children from the poorest communities. Children affected by the condition are at higher risk of blindness, as well as weakened immune systems.
Genetically modified Golden Rice has been approved for cultivation in the Philippines because it contains nutrients that can promote good health, especially for young children.As a result of the commercial cultivation license issued on July 21, a decades-long effort has succeeded in creating rice with higher levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, an essential nutrient.
Philippines now ranks among the top countries in the world when it comes to leveraging agricultural research to tackle malnutrition and its related health impacts in a safe and sustainable manner.Precision breeding innovations such as genetic engineering and gene editing can open new pathways to a more inclusive food system by improving rice varieties that meet farmer, consumer, and environmental needs.
According to the State of food security and nutrition in the world, 2020’ report, 14 per cent of India’s population is undernourished. It has further reported that 189.2 million people are undernourished in India while 34.7 per cent of the children aged under five are stunted in the nation. On top of it 20 per cent of India’s children under the age of 5 suffer from wasting.
Malnutrition is undoubtedly one of the major issuesfaced by the country. In addition to the distribution of prophylactic medication against nutritional anemiaand IntegratedChild Development Services (ICDS), , several governments have introduced large-scale supplemental feeding programmes.
A recent initiative by the Government of India, Poshan Abhiyaan, aims to eliminate undernutrition in children (stunting and underweight) and anemia in the country. Its ultimate objective is to create a mass movement for holistic nutrition in the country.
India can seek inspiration from Philippines by introducing high value nutrition crops along with conventional crops. If Philippines with 11 crore population can take a proactive approach in addressing the nutrition gap though scientific achievements in crop biofortification, India with a population of over 100 crores, needs to tackle the malnutrition issue head on. It is high time that the Government, local authorities, and citizens should make a collective effort to support new technologies in crop improvement and sustainable agricultural development for holistic nutrition along with eliminating hunger.
Minichromosomes are small structures within cells that contain very little genetic material but can store large quantity of information. By using minichromosomes, agricultural geneticists can add dozens of traits to a plant. These traits can be agronomically beneficial ones like drought-tolerant and improved nitrogen usage. Minichromosomal technology does not alter the genes of plants in any manner, resulting in faster regulatory approval and acceptance by farmers.
This technology provides a way to add genes to a synthetic chromosome in a sequential manner. Telomere shortening along with the introduction of site-specific recombination, which is when two molecules of DNA exchange pieces of their genetic material with each other, has proven to be an easy method to produce minichromosomes.
Growing population, accelerating climatic changes resulting in extreme temperature, unpredictable rainfall, degraded soil, resistant pests etc are all contributors to a bad recipe of lowering crop yields. New crop varieties that can withstand these pressures is a necessity.
The potential for genetic engineering can be enhanced through technological advancements, for example, plant artificial chromosome technology, allowing for the management of a large number of genes in the next generation of genetic engineering. As a result of tools such as gene assembly, genome editing, gene targeting, and chromosome delivery, it is possible to engineer crops with multiple genes.
Through the above advancements in agriculture, both the herbicide resistant genes and the Bt toxin genes can be introduced into crops for effective weed control and insect resistance. As a result, the engineered crop will reduce the application of pesticides that are harmful to humans and the environment.
For farmers to meet the rising consumption demands, they will need at least 23% more agricultural product than they currently produce. According to estimates, the demand will rise by 50%–70% as a result of both population growth and changing dietary habits.
In existing agricultural methods, yield increases are typically achieved by regulating natural resource usage and are not too environmentally friendly. As a consequence, it is necessary to use new technologies to grow superior crops.
The use of genetically engineered crops has spread to major crop producing countries. Induction of Bt toxin and herbicide resistance genes from micro-organisms into plants has changed agriculture, causing weeds to be controlled effectively and chemical pesticides to be reduced. Agriculture has undergone the most significant development in the past century and genetic engineering is poised to become the primary method for meeting the growing demand for agricultural products in the future.
Results of such technology are Arctic apples, which are among the first food crops to gain attention of consumers with benefits like non-browning and protecting its flavour and nutritive value.
Potato varieties that are genetically engineered to resist potato blight can help reduce the use of chemical fungicides by up to 90 percent, reducing the environmental impact of potato farming. In addition, potatoes will have reduced bruising and black spots, improved storage capability and a reduced amount of a chemical which develops when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures and could be potentially carcinogenic.
Researchers have shown that changing a gene that makes plants grow better, regardless of growing conditions, reliably increases corn yields by 10%. The newer varieties of genetically modified corn are drought tolerant, produce greater amounts of ethanol, and have higher lysine content. These plants are insect resistant, herbicide resistant, and drought resistant.
GMO soybean oil has no trans-fat and more monounsaturated fats, which are considered for healthy heart. Herbicides and insects are also tolerant to the new soybean variety.
In Hawaii, genetically modified papaya varieties known as Rainbow and SunUp have been developed to resist papaya ringspot virus.
The genetic modification of summer squash and zucchini has been helpful. Most GMOs are designed to be resistant to herbicides or produce insecticides, whereas GMO squash is designed to be resistant to certain types of viruses. Most of these viral diseases are caused by the Zucchini yellow mosaic virus. Because it is related to ringspot disease in papayas, it is transmitted by aphids and makes infected plants produce small, unhealthy fruit.
In terms of acreage, alfalfa ranks fourth behind corn, soybeans, and wheat in the United States. Due to weed infestations, alfalfa yields are reduced, forages are of lesser quality, and insects are more likely to invade. It is engineered to respond to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical on weeds without harming the plants.
Genetic modification is frequently used to improve the quality of canola oil and boost the plant’s tolerance to herbicides. The United States grows over 90% GMO canola crops. Plants that grow canola produce oil and meal, which are commonly used for animal feed.
Bt cotton produces an insecticide to combat bollworms, one of the crop’s primary pests.
The current application of minichromosome technology is to allow stacking of genes involved with herbicide tolerance and pest resistance genes. Plants could gain new properties or synthesize new metabolites in the future with the addition of entire biochemical pathways. Minichromosomes can be produced in most plant species for a wide spectrum of new applications.
Forests are constantly under threat of encroachment due to human activity and industrialization. Conservation of forest biological diversity along with forest’s genetic resources is vital as it can protect the health of regional ecosystems. It is crucial to sustain forests to minimize threat to the environment.
While on one hand, appropriate management practices are required for forest conservation, the incorporation of genetic modification and genetic engineering technologies can bring sustainable changes in forest lands.
Advances in forest genetics will contribute to understanding how tree species can take advantage of new breeding programs. Mapping genetic diversity will enable traceability of wood products and the forest reproductive material.
Genetic engineering can help develop sustainable forest tree varieties by precise modification of genetic material to obtain resilience in the forest ecosystem. Various genomic research is being carried out by the scientists and researchers throughout the world to breed varieties specially for the forest.
For instance, forestry scientists in Scotland have created the first variety of elm trees which were genetically modified to resist Dutch elm disease. Dutch elm disease couldn’t be managed through traditional plant breeding which made scientists realize the inclusion of biotechnological applications such as genetic engineering. Scientists say some of the trees have attained a height of five feet. Dutch elm disease is reported to have diminished more than seventy percent of fully mature population of elm trees. Genetic modification could save these trees from extinction and can help conserve the forest ecosystem.
On the other hand, Eucalyptus trees can also be genetically modified to restrict sexual reproductions, to not invade the native ecosystems. Approximately seven percent of the world’s forests are plantations while twenty-five percent of plantation is inhibited by either hybrids or nonnative species. Eucalyptus is the most commonly planted genera of forest trees. It covers around 5.7 million hectares in Brazil, 4.5 million hectares in China, and 3.9 million hectares in the Indian sub-continent.
The ability to sexually reproduce leads to the mingling of the Eucalyptus trees in the native ecosystems. Through genetic modification, this characteristic can be switched off permanently and the unnecessary invasion to neighboring areas can be restricted.
Global warming is impacting the world’s forests leading to disruption of natural resources and reservoirs. Trees in the forests are unable to withstand the harshness of global warming as well as the shrinking of the forest land. Hence, the forest reserves are under rapid depletion. Conventional breeding doesn’t provide much hope for sustainable achievements due to marginal approaches while genetically advanced applications such as CRISPR can aid in conserving the forest biodiversity at a quicker pace.
One similar case happened with the American Chestnut which played a significant role in the eastern US. However, the loss of American Chestnut put the ecosystem in jeopardy, which also led to the extinction of seven moth species.
Today, with genetic engineering approaches, researchers are developing blight-free American Chestnut variety. This was a promising deal that led to the first field trial of genetically engineered trees in 2006. The genetically engineered American Chestnut trees proved resistant, and the trait was passed down to offspring which will continue to generate blight-resistant American Chestnuts in the years to come.
This technology has the potential to conserve forests up to a greater extent. Also, it will introduce forest biodiversity to an entirely newer mechanism of plant breeding.
With the current rate of extreme climate change globally, it will keep affecting the entire ecosystem and agricultural production worldwide. The impact of climate change can also be seen in the increase of plant pests, and it has a direct relation to international trade as plant pests are not only limited to a particular region.In a nutshell, climate change poses a newer challenge to the international plant health community and this issue is of utmost importance as it has a direct co-relation to the lives and livelihoods of the population involved in agriculture.
The increase of CO2 can trigger the level of simple sugar in leaves. It also lowers down the nitrogen content in a plant leaf which encourages pests to consume more leaves to supplement their nitrogen requirement. It negatively impacts the growth of a plant and leads to compromised yield quality which is neither nutritious nor resistant to climactic situations.
Elevated CO2 levels and raised temperature can also alter the population composition and duration of the infective stages of various pests and the diseases caused by them. It can be seriously hazardous for plant health.
It is evident in perennial orchards that trees get attacked by more than one generation of pests. Contrary to popular belief, the temperature rises more during the night than daytime. Hence, the higher nocturnal temperature will aid in reducing the period for leaf-wetness. It is crucial to control a pest or disease through biological means or by introducing their natural enemies.
India majorly has small farm holdings thatare fragmented. Farming cooperatives can help in the facilitation of integrated pest management. Since India is a warm country, it requires a synchronized approach to beat the pest and diseases which are often more prevalent during summer and monsoon. A systematic application of suppressing the pest activity can eliminate chances of plant pest and it will result in qualitative yield.
Pest outbreaks can cause extensive damage. Our history has a lot to show in this regard. Earlier too, plant pests have had a hugely negative impact on social and economic conditions accompanied by the invasion and destruction of European vineyards by the insect – phylloxera.
Also, the invasion of the Colorado beetle in the twentieth century led to the rapid colonization of potato plots is another example of pest outbreaks.
Here are a few more to discuss that include the Irish potato famine caused by Phytophthora infections, the Great Bengal Famine by Helminthosporiumoryzae, and the chestnut blight caused by Cryphonectriaparasitica, responsible for wiping out the entire American Chestnut trees.
Wood packing, seeds, planting material, soil, and the growing international trade are responsible for pest transfer from one place to another and one climatic surrounding to another in which pests find their way to survive and weaken the plant immune system by causing various diseases.
Therefore, it is crucial to continue using scientific innovations and biotechnology to improve crop varieties that can withstand biotic and abiotic stresses. Now is the time to accept climate-resistant crops to suppress the occurrence of plant pests.