In this article we will discuss about the use of modern methods of crop breeding.
Conventional breeding, especially of crops, livestock and fish, focuses principally on increased productivity, increased resistance to diseases and pests, and enhanced quality with respect to nutrition and food processing.
Advances in cellular genetics and cell biology methods in the 1960s contributed to the so-called ‘green revolution’ that significantly increased varieties of staple food crops containing traits for higher yield and resistance to diseases and pests in a number of both developed and developing countries. A key driver of the green revolution was to improve the potential to provide sufficient food for all.
The intensification and expansion of agriculture brought about by these methods and agricultural systems have, however, also resulted in new forms of health and environmental risks through, for example, increased use of agrochemicals and intensified cultivation resulting in soil erosion.
The development of molecular biology in the 1970s and 1980s introduced more direct methods for the analysis of genetic sequences and allowed the identification of genetic markers for desired traits. Such marker-assisted breeding methods are the basis of some current conventional breeding strategies.
Whereas modern methods of breeding have significantly increased crop yields over the past 50 years, the future potential of these methods is constrained by the limitations in the natural diversity of trait genotype within crop species and sexual-compatibility boundaries between crop types.
To overcome these problems, a number of interested groups (scientists, farmers, governments, agricultural companies) have since the 1980s considered other means to achieve the objectives of improved yields, sustainable agricultural systems, and improvements in human and animal health and the environment. This includes the use of more modern methods to introduce novel traits, such as tolerance to drought, salt, or pests.
To achieve these objectives, various public and, more recently, private research programmes have aimed to improve the understanding of and links between crop performance and molecular genetics. With the development and use of recombinant DNA in the 1980s, a tool to overcome the limitation of species incompatibility was found.
Modern biotechnology employs molecular techniques to identify, select and modify DNA sequences for a specific genetic trait (e.g. insect resistance) from a donor organism (microorganism, plant or animal), and transfer the sequence to the recipient organism so that it expresses this trait. Various transformation methods are used to transfer recombinant DNA into recipient species to produce a GMO.
For plants, these include transformation mediated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens (a common soil bacterium that contains genetic elements for infection of plants) and biolistics-shooting recombinant DNA placed on microparticles into recipient cells.
The methods used in the transformation of various animal species include microinjection, electroporation and germ-line cells. The success rate of transformations in animals tends to be lower than in plants, and to vary from species to species, thus requiring the use of many animals.
Genetic modification is often faster than conventional breeding techniques, as stable expression of a trait is achieved using far fewer breeding generations. It also allows a more precise alteration of an organism than conventional methods of breeding, as it enables the selection and transfer of a specific gene of interest.
However, with the present technology, in many cases it leads to random insertion in the host genome, and consequently may have unintended developmental or physiological effects.
However, such effects can also occur in conventional breeding and the selection process used in modern biotechnology aims to eliminate such unintended effects to establish a stable and beneficial trait.
It should be noted that conventional breeding programmes directed by the molecular analysis of genetic markers are also of critical importance to modern plant and animal breeding. However, human and environmental health consequences of these techniques are not considered here.