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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Recent Research Initiatives in GM Crops- Environment Impact


While recent research efforts have been in the areas of enhanced crop production, building resistance to insects as also enhancing the nutritious value and contents of plants, efforts are also being made to address the environment concerns and for enhancing efficiency in the farming operations. A few such efforts in this and related field are as under:

Increased antioxidant content. Various inherent contents of tomatoes have been increased as is the case with soy. These nutrients are known to improve health or prevent disease. Research in this area is at a relatively early stage of development, as knowledge of the inherent contents is still limited and not all phyto nutrients are beneficial for human consumption.

Environmental stresses. Tolerance to environmental-stress factors through genetic modification is an area that is in the early stages of R&D. Resistance to salinity and drought are being researched intensively. Salinity is estimated to affect 20% of agricultural land and 40% of irrigated land worldwide. Salt and drought tolerance involve numerous genes interacting in a complex manner and would require endless efforts for unraveling the mystery. Owing to this multigenic character, conventional breeding techniques have had little success in the generation of salt- or drought-tolerant varieties. Salt tolerance may be conferred to sensitive crops by the transfer of multiple genes linked to a relevant pathway from a tolerant crop. The likely time frame for commercialization for such GM crops is unknown as the research is still in early stages and there are complex issues involved which are being tackled by the scientists.

Tolerance to aluminium (a growth-limiting factor in acid soils) is in the early phase of R&D for several crops, including papaya, tobacco, rice and maize, but they are not expected to be in commercial use for several years.

Attempts have been made to improve the photosynthetic system in plants through genetic modification. Crops such as maize and sugar cane are more efficient in converting energy into sugars than most broadleaf crop plants. By introducing genes for more efficient photosynthesis from one crop to another, efficiency could be improved by 10% with an enhancement in yield.

Male-sterility traits have been introduced for obtaining 100% hybrid sowing-seed for the purposes of environmental containment of GM crops. Various male-sterile maize varieties have been approved for market introduction in the USA. In addition, various male-sterile rapeseed and canola varieties have been approved for environmental release and food use in the European Union (EU), Canada and the USA. Another strategy for containing gene flow between plants attempts to introduce asexual seed propagation in crops (seed production without the need to pollinate).
 

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