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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Biotechnology- Significance in food production


The significance of the application of modern biotechnology in the area of food production and its resultant impact in terms of human health and development can not be undermined. As the world is faced with ever increasing population and more and more food shortage and regional imbalances, new technologies and techniques are being developed to enhance production and increase the shelf life of perishable items. It is in this direction that new research initiatives in the field of green biotechnology are being made to enhance productivity and nutrition value of food items.

Foods produced through modern biotechnology can be categorized as follows:

1. Foods consisting of or containing living/viable organisms, e.g. maize.

2. Foods derived from or containing ingredients derived from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), e.g. flour, food protein products, or oil from GM soybeans, wheat etc.

3. Foods containing single ingredients or additives produced by GM microorganisms (GMMs), e.g. colours, vitamins and essential amino acids.

4. Foods containing ingredients processed by enzymes produced through GMMs, e.g. high-fructose corn syrup produced from starch, using the enzyme glucose isomerase (product of a GMM).

The first genetically modified food item -GM food (delayed-ripening tomato) was introduced on the US market in the mid-1990s. Since then, GM strains of maize, soybean, rape and cotton have been adopted by a number of countries and marketed internationally. In addition, GM varieties of papaya, potato, rice, squash and sugar beet have been trialed or released. It is estimated that GM crops cover almost 4% of total global arable land.

The development of GM organisms has revolutionized the scenario of world food production. It has also offered the potential for increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development. From a health perspective, there may also be indirect benefits, such as reduced agricultural chemical usage and enhanced farm income, and improved crop sustainability and food security, particularly in developing countries.

While the introduction of GM crops has undoubtedly changed the agricultural scenario and led to significant impact on human development, it has also raised various social, cultural and ethical issues and reluctance on the part of various countries and governments to accept the GM food even in times of grave needs such as famine and drought. While some countries have established premarket regulatory standards for risk assessment of each and every food item before being launched in the market for application, there may be a case of a consistent and uniform international regulatory structure so as to ensure that such food items conform to a set of standards which are fair and equitable. This will also help quell a number of misgivings and doubts in the minds of countries yet to benefit from these food items.

 

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