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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Future trends in GM crops

The introduction of GM crops in the lexicon of word agriculture has been instrumental in devoting more and mores research hours to rapidly increase the areas where the technology can be used for commercial application. Now the introduction of foreign genes into economically important plant species, resulting in crop improvement and the production of novel products in plants is no longer viewed with astonishment. Nor is the use of environment friendly and cost effective alternatives to industrial chemicals such as bio fuels, bio fertilizers and bio pesticides which are also resulting in enhanced crop output, improvement in health and safety standards.

The commercial introduction of crop plants with agronomic traits is often referred to as the first generation of Genetically Modified plants. Further development of GM crops with agronomic traits is continuing, and production of a range of GM crops with enhanced nutritional profiles is also under way under laboratory conditions. Various novel traits are currently being tested in laboratories and field tests in a number of countries. Many of these second-generation GM crops are still in the development stage and are unlikely to enter the market for several years. All genetically modified crops enter the market for commercial application only after careful consideration and legal approvals.

The key areas of research and development (R&D) in the area of genetically modified plants are as under:

1. Agronomic traits and virus resistance

2. Altered nutrition and composition.

Improving agronomic traits

This development makes plants pest and disease resistant and helps the crop to grow without being impacted from weeds and insects. In the short term, most newly commercialized GM crops will continue to concentrate on agronomic traits, especially herbicide resistance and insect resistance and, indirectly, yield potential. R&D in this area aims to:

1. Introduce herbicide-resistance traits in a broader range of varieties of maize, soybean and canola;

2. Broaden the range of herbicides that can be used in combination with the transgenic herbicide-resistant crop, such as introduction of tolerance to the herbicides bromoxynil, oxynil and sulfonylurea; and

3. Stack novel genes for insect resistance in plants, such as novel Bt variants containing different toxins.

Adding to virus resistance. Virus resistance could be extremely important to improving agricultural productivity. Field tests of the following virus-resistant crops are currently being conducted in various parts of the world: sweet potato (feathery mottle virus); maize (maize streak virus); and African cassava (mosaic virus). These crops may be available for commercialization within the next 35 years. Because of its complex genome, work on wheat resistant to the barley yellow-dwarf virus has made little progress and is still undergoing laboratory investigation.

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