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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Biotechnology in Food- Risk Assessment

Probably no discovery in green biotechnology arena has had, in so short a time, such far reaching consequences on agriculture as the method reported in 1983 for the genetic modification of plants using gene technology. In 2005, such genetically modified varieties comprised 60% of global soy bean cultivation, 14% of maize, 28% of cotton and 18% of rape seed; between 2003 and 2005 the overall increase of the area worldwide given over to GM crops was 33%. This clearly demonstrates that the application of gene technology in agriculture has economically been very successful.

Genetic modifications in crop plants have focused primarily on the production of varieties for cutting harvest losses due to insects and weeds. More recent developments are directed to protection against viral and fungal infections, the enhancement of tolerance towards drought and salinity, the formation of male sterile plants for the generation of productive hybrids, and the improvement of the nutritional quality of crop plants and increasing the shelf life of many perishable items such as tomatoes by identifying gene responsible for early ripening of the same.

While the benefits from genetically modified organisms are many and more and more research is getting directed towards the field, the use of GMOs may also involve potential risks for human health and development. Many genes used in GMOs have not been in the food supply before. While new types of conventional food crops are not usually subject to safety assessment before marketing, assessments of GM foods are generally undertaken before the first crops are commercialized. There is a need for risk assessments to consider both the intended and unintended effects of such foods in the food supply. GM foods currently traded on the international market have passed risk assessments in several countries and are not likely, nor have been shown, to present risks for human health. However still a lot of misgivings are there which need to be addressed painstakingly.

The application of modern biotechnology to food production presents new opportunities and challenges for human health and development. Recombinant gene technology, the most well-known modern biotechnology, enables plants, animals and microorganisms to be genetically modified (GM) with novel traits beyond what is possible through traditional breeding and selection technologies. It is recognized that techniques such as cloning, tissue culture and marker-assisted breeding are often regarded as modern biotechnologies, in addition to genetic modification.

The challenge of producing more food grains to feed the ever increasing population of world and reducing the agricultural waste and increasing productivity with less resources has brought companies to invest in GM crops and undertake new research in the field. The benefits are many and results encouraging. What is needed is a concerted efforts to dispel fears.

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