Transgenic plants might seem like a very confusing and complex topic. However, that is not the case. In this article, we will be trying to explain transgenic plants and look at some transgenic plants examples. After reading this, hopefully, you won’t find it as complex anymore.
What Are Transgenic Plants?
You may have encountered the term transgenic plants. So what are they? Simply put, the term transgenic refers to artificially induced genetic features. So transgenic plants are genetically modified plants.
Transgenic plants are made by humans by splitting and inserting genes from different species of plants. As you might know, genes are responsible for various characteristics in different plants. As a result of this mix and match, it is possible to create and cultivate modified breeds of plants possessing various desired characteristics.
Extracting and recombining DNA techniques are employed to make the desired plant. This also filters out undesirable characteristics from the plant. Some popular techniques of gene insertion are briefly listed below:
Particle Gun Or Gene Gun
One of the most common ways of inserting genes into plants is by making use of a particle or gene gun. This coats the desired gene using metal and then fires it into the plant at high speeds.
Polyethylene Glycol Mediated Transformation
This is a high-frequency cell targeting method that can cultivate several desired cells at once. It does not require the use of specialized equipment but usually takes longer.
This is a technique that uses electric fields to inject DNA molecules into the cell. Electroporation increases the permeability of cell membranes which allows new molecules to be added to the cell.
History Of Transgenic Plants
Early research for transgenic plants began in 1947. Armin Braun, a plant pathologist, found a unique discovery of how a bacterium could inject its DNA into a plant. This discovery was the start of the idea of injecting external DNA into plants to alter their characteristics.
The first breakthrough was in 1983, when the first transgenic plant was introduced at Washington University. This was a tobacco plant that had resistance to antibiotics. The scientists made use of a plasmid integration system to insert a segment of external DNA into the tobacco plant.
Research continued, and one of the most important marks in progress for transgenic plants was the development of golden rice in the 1990s. This was a type of rice with high Vitamin A content and could be served to people in areas with a lack of sources of Vitamin A. Golden rice first saw cultivation in the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in 2004.
Why Create Transgenic Plants?
Up to this point, you might now be aware of what transgenic plants are and their brief history. However, now you might wonder, why even make transgenic plants, and what benefits do they even bring? As it has been said, transgenic plants contain desired genes from other plants. This can allow scientists to introduce new characteristics to plants.
Being able to add foreign characteristics to certain plants is beneficial for several reasons. This includes:
One of the main reasons to create transgenic plants is to increase the yield of said plants. With the increasing population, there is a higher demand for crops. The number of crops produced can be limited by the amount of land, and as such transgenic plants produce higher yields without requiring too much land. Transgenic plants are being seen as a solid option for farmers to keep up with the increasing population.
Disease And Pest Resistance
Many crops and plants are susceptible to diseases that can highly damage them. An important reason for creating transgenic plants is to insert genes that help boost resistance to pests and diseases. This can allow crops to thrive better and not worry about rodents or insects destroying them, which is a massive boon for many farmers who suffer from this problem.
Increase Resistance To Heat And Cold
Some areas in the world experience extreme droughts or are so cold that plants have a hard time thriving. The lack of water during droughts allows only the hardiest of plants to thrive. By being able to insert a gene that helps boost resistance against the heat, it is possible to grow and cultivate plants where it wouldn’t be possible otherwise. This can allow for previously unusable areas to now be able to cultivate plants.
Faster Than Breeding
While it is possible to make use of cross-breeding to get desired characteristics onto plants. However, this method is incredibly slow, taking years for the characteristics to develop, and the genes that can be distributed are limited. Such issues are not usually present in methods used to make transgenic plants.
Examples Of Transgenic Plants
We will be looking at four popular transgenic plants. These are soybean, canola, cotton, and maize.
Genetically modified versions of soybean first saw use in 1996 in the USA. Initially, modifications were made to increase yield and allow soybean to be grown more efficiently. This was the first phase of Genetically Modified (GM) foods.
Later additions worked on adding more healthy components to soybean. This was an attempt to boost the healthy properties of soybean and its nutritional benefits. Further modifications led to genetically modified soybean that was healthy, could be grown in harsher environments and was cheaper.
Canola received genetic modifications and was developed by the Monsanto company. The primary modification of Canola was to make it resistant to the common herbicide known as Glyphosate. It made use of two genes derived from Bacterium to bolster its resistance to the herbicide.
Genetically modified cotton is one of the most popular transgenic plants commercially. The increase in yield and resistance to pests makes it very useful for many farmers. It’s much easier to grow, thus reducing strenuous labor, and doesn’t get damaged as easily by external factors.
There are variations of GM cotton that possess different resistances, but the most popular ones for many farmers include pesticide and herbicide-resistant ones. It was initially made using agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation, but recent variations make use of a pollen tube method instead.
Maize as a Monoecious plant would often be susceptible to various pests, including the corn borer that could destroy it. As a result, there was a need to introduce genes that would make the crop pest resistant. Transgenic maize was made by taking a gene from the bacteria bacillus thuringiensis.
By 2011 or so, genetically modified maize saw use in many countries and was also available for import. Development continued to build Maize’s resistance to various external factors, including resistance to drought.
The Risks Associated With Transgenic Plants
While it may seem that everything is great with transgenic plants, they are not without their issues. There can be health issues regarding transgenic plants due to the introduction of unwanted toxic proteins. Consuming these can lead to detrimental effects.
Perhaps the biggest risk associated with transgenic plants is unexpected behavior. Some transgenic plants can end up growing too much to the point they become akin to weeds and are often unwanted. However, due to the numerous resistances they have built up, controlling them can be incredibly difficult. There have been cases where genetically modified plants have ended up putting other plants at risk and upsetting the environment.
This is a large reason why imports and distribution of said plants are often held off. Due to unexpected changes in the environment that are difficult to predict, they can end up being invasive species and doing more harm than good.
The Future Of Transgenic Plants
While there are some risks with transgenic plants, overall, the future remains bright for them due to the possible solutions they can provide for world hunger. Future endeavors will mostly focus on fixing the problems and reducing any risky effects they might have on the environment. The general focus is on making them safer to use and consume.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you now have a better idea of what transgenic plants are and why they might be important. With advancements in genetic engineering, the development of transgenic plants has increased by leaps and bounds.