Biotechnology is a complex set of highly sophisticated laboratory procedures, which make use of living organisms in industries. It is used to create energy, develop new varieties of crops, destroy waste materials and manufacture new and unique) products. It has become the fastest growing technology the world over. It can be used in agriculture, basic sciences. engineering, manufacturing, genetic engineering, medicine and other vital areas of human endeavour. It is ultimately linked to the society that utilises its products. It can improve the quality of human life.
Scientists can isolate any gene of their interest from any living organism and incorporate that gene into any other living organism. They can also cut apart DNA molecules and paste them together (almost at their own will) regardless of the source of those molecules. So, tailor-made genes can be created and expressed in any functional cell. All this was made possible due to developments and research work in the fields of molecular biology and biotechnology.
The most useful applications of biotechnology have been witnessed in the field of agriculture. On March, 26. 2002 Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the commercial production of Bt Cotton, after six years of trials. Three varieties approved by GEAC are Mech 12, Mech 162 and Mech 184. Bt cotton is a Genetically Modified (GM) crop. The next GM crop would be mustard (in India), according to GEAC.
GM crops are free from diseases. They withstand harsh weather and give higher yields per hectare than those given by traditional crops. These crops are also able to desist the onslaught of pests and rodents.
But here lies the crux of the problem. While modifying the genes of such crops, the scientists have made their GM offsprings dangerous enough to wipe out the living beings. For example, Bt Cotton produces a. protein, which is toxic for lepidopteran (crawling) insects. This toxin exists in nature within the micro oraganism Bacillus Thuringiensis; that is why. this GM cotton is called Bt Cotton. This genetic manipulation was done by inserting the gene Cry IAc, which was obtained from the Bacillius Thuringiensis. True, St Cotton would be protected from (crawling) insects. But many animals would be fed with oil cakes made from the Bt Cotton crop. These animals would transfer the poison. of Bt Cotton crops to milk, meat and their products. Humans (and children) would suffer due to the toxin present. The opponents of GM crops have taken a serious note of the issue of Bt Cotton due to this very reason. Other potential hazards of GM crops are: (a) reduction in biodiversity in the long run: (b) transfer of the transgene to related species or weeds (through pollen) leading to the development of superweeds; (c) transgenics resistant to pests and pathogens provoking the evolution of new and more virulent varieties of organisms/products; (d) the newly created of modified gene harming those organisms that have not been targeted, thereby harming the ecology and finally; (e) the transgene products or their intermediates proving to be biohazards to man and other living beings (including animals, birds and micro organisms).
But we should have a look at the benefits too. These are: (a) reduced use of broad-spectrum insecticides; (b) less production costs due to better yields; (c) good-quality products; (d) increased effectiveness of beneficial anthropods as pest control agents; (e) lower levels of air pollution; and (f) less chances of crops being destroyed due to natural calamities, pests, etc.
Genetic egineering in the parlance of agricultural production has become the leading technology. That is because -Green Revolution (1968-69) had hit a plateau. Excessive use of fertilisers and water had led to soil degradation, salinity and alkalinity. GM seeds are being deemed the harbingers of the new era that would be sans such problems.
Every new technology has its advantages and limitations we must remove the limitations of the products of biotechnology and exploit its advantages to, the hill. The USA, Japan, China and Russia are far ahead of the Indian scientists in terms of biotechnology research. We are not spending funds on the research efforts and scientists. If this trend were to continue, our biotechnology programmes would drag behind those of the West by 15-20 years. We must know that it is the next revolution on the cards.
Crop yields can be increased manifold with the help of genetically modified seeds. Molecular biology and biotechnology would deliver new methods pretty soon that would revolutionise the crop production patterns. Molecular genetics tailors plants to suit different conditions. But new issues emerging in the area of biotechnology are biosafety and bioethics. The hazards witnessed in the case of Bt Cotton (as described earlier in this text) might spring up even more serious challenges in the cases of other crops. People (especially, farmers) would accept Gm crop only then, when they are sure that these crops would not affect their economy, ecology and health. Many opponents of GM crops (or other products of biotechnology) want these research efforts to be stopped. But Scientists should slowly but surely eliminate the hazards present in such products and then, make them available for mass use. After all, the first steam engine was also deemed an iron monster during its first trial run!
Thus, genetic engineering could lead the nation to her second Green Revolution. Genetic engineering would soon make its presence felt in other vital areas of human endeavour. Medicine is one such key area. We hope able scientists involved in the field of genetic engineering would be able to weed out its harmful effects.