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Plant
Biotechnology
What IS plant biotechnology and
why is it useful to me??
I’m glad
you asked!
Let’s define:
Plant biotechnology:
a rapidly expanding field within
biotechnology that chiefly involves the
introduction of foreign genes into
economically important plant species,
resulting in crop improvement and the
production of novel products in plants
Timeline
The genetic manipulation of plants has been
going on since prehistoric times when early
farmers began carefully selecting and
maintaining seed from their best crop to
plant for next season.
Now genes from sexually incompatible
plants, animals, bacteria and insects can
be introduced into plants
Recent developments
 Agricultural
benefits
 Vaccines
 Pytoremediation
Agricultural Benefits of
Biotechnology
“Biotechnology is the most rapidly
adopted technology in the history of
agriculture.”
-Bruce Chassy
Professor of Microbiology
University of Illinois
Growth of Biotechnology
In 2002…
 75% of US soybean acres were planted with
biotech soybeans
 71% of US cotton acreage were insect and
herbicide resistant biotech cotton varieties
 34% of all corn acres were biotech corn
In 2001, biotech crop planting was up 20%, with
greatest percentage growth in developing
countries
Why biotech?
Improves yields
 Cuts costs
 Reduces spraying
 Improves farmers’ quality of life

Stats
US biotech crops planted in US
produced additional 4 billion pounds
of food and fiber on same acreage
 Improved farm income by $1.5 billion
 Reduced pesticide use by 46 million
lbs.
Biotech in Third World




UN estimates nearly 800 million people around
the world are undernourished
About 400 million women of child-bearing age
are iron deficient, exposing their babies to
various birth defects
Over 100 million children suffer from Vitamin A
deficiency, the leading cause of blindness
Tens of millions of people around the world
suffer from other major ailments or nutritional
deficiencies caused by lack of food
How does biotech help?
Improves farming productivity in
places where there are food
shortages
 Genetically modified food such as
‘golden rice’ and ‘protato’ that have
increased levels of nutrients

Biotech and the environment



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Thanks to biotechnology, corn is the first renewable
raw material that can replace petrochemicals in
fibers and plastics
Corn resin could be used to make fibers, plastic
containers, and other products
Since corn resin is biodegradable, can dramatically
reduce pollution and world’s reliance on crude oil to
make polyesters, plastics, and other products
Also, an increase in environmentally friendly
conservation tillage practices is made possible
through the adoption of biotech crops
As a result…




Nearly 1 billion tons of soil saved per year
Lowered maintenance costs for activities such
as dredging rivers and treating drinking water,
saving $3.5 billion in sedimentation costs in
2002
Reduced levels of greenhouse gases such as
carbon dioxide
306 million gallons of fuel saved in 2002 by
reducing number of tractor passes needed to
control weeds
No more
shots!
CHARLES ARNTZEN
Former Dean of the School of
Agriculture @ Texas A&M
University
Presently professor of plant
biology @ Arizona State
And founder and director of
the Arizona Biodesign Institute
in Tempe
The problem @ hand
Unicef estimates that 30 million infants
go without basic immunizations every
year
 3 million of those die from
preventable disease

Arntzen:



has been successful in producing GM
bananas that produce a protein found on
the outer surface of the Hepatitis B virus
concluded 3 early-stage clinical trials using
potatoes bearing vaccines against
hepatitis B, E. coli and the Norwalk virus
goal is dry powder or baby food puree
form of vaccine
Other innovations
in the works

Potatoes carrying insulin: Loma Linda

Corn that staves off intestinal pathogens:

Corn geared toward cystic fybrosis:
University in California
Iowa State
Meristem Therapeutics in France

Early stage clinical trials with herpes
monoclonal antibody growth in corn:
Epicyte Pharmaceuticals in San Diego
Benefits

Small crops, big results: Arntzen estimates he could
vaccinate all of China against Hepatitis B using 125 acres


No need for sterile injections or refrigerated
vaccines
No need to worry about acquiring the disease
from the vaccine: genetically engineered vaccines
cannot cause the disease because the engineered
bacteria cell or plant is just creating a protein that exists on
the surface of a virus- not the whole virus
Worries?
“I don’t see that every village in Africa or
Latin America is going to have a
pharmaceutical banana tree.”
-Charles Arntzen


Treated like any other pharmaceutical or herbal
medicine
Strict regulations preventing cross-pollination
phytoremedi-
what?!
Let’s define
 Phytoremediation – the use of plants
to remove pollutants from the environment
and render them harmless
 Phytoextraction
– the actual
removing of the pollutants
Phytoremediation



Work on this began in the 1980s
Scientists noticed that some plants could
take in toxic metals that would kill other
plants
Scientist theorized that these plants could
be used to clean contaminated land
cheaply and more naturally
A tree
The Basics

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Giant webs of roots act as a solar powered pump
to withdraw, concentrate and transport essential
elements and compounds from the soil and water
This also absorbs the contaminates
The pollutants are drawn up into the harvestable
part of the plant
The plant is then harvested and disposed of
The land or aquifer will eventually become
decontaminated
How phytoextraction works
What can be taken in
by the roots?
Heavy metal concentrations of lead,
uranium, and cadmium
 Arsenic
 Petroleum products
 It can even be used to clean the
urban city air

Roots can clean the air
you say?
House plants foliage is capable of
removing low levels of pollution
 Plant roots, assisted by a carbon filter,
are able to remove much higher
concentration of pollution

They can remove:

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asbestos
pesticides
carbon dioxide
carbon monoxide
other gases
chemicals from
detergents, solvents,
and cleaning fluids


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fibers released from
clothing, furnishings,
draperies, glass,
carpets, and insulation
fungi and bacteria
tobacco smoke
More benefits


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Plants in urban areas absorb the extra carbon
and use it for photosynthesis
Leaves also collect dust until it is washed off by
rain, by adding more foliage dust can be
reduced by 75%
During photosynthesis, tree foliage also
removes from the atmosphere other
chemicals, such as nitrogen oxides, airborne
ammonia, some sulfur dioxide, and ozone,
that are part of the smog and greenhouse
effect problems
Working Phytoremediation




At UGA Om Dhankher has successfully
engineered tobacco and other hearty plants to
not only absorb arsenic but also to combine it
with other proteins that would render it non-toxic
He hopes that future generations of these plants
will be able to absorb 50 times the heavy metals
they do today
Indian Mustard (Brassica Juncea L.) has already
successfully removed lead from contaminated
soil
It has even removed uranium
Problems with acceptance
EPA has not fully accepted this as a
way of cleaning up after ourselves
 Phytoremediation has yet to gain a
proven track record with clean ups,
but is still being perfected

Cost

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There is also an economic side to acceptance
Landowners contract clean-up through large
companies
These companies receive a percentage of the
cost of clean up which would be in the 10’s of
millions of dollars
Why would they want to endorse a much
cheaper way of doing things?
Time
Phytoremediation also takes much
longer
 It can take up to 100 years to clean a
site
 For this reason it is better to use on a
small lot of land that is not heavily
contaminated until the technology
can be perfected

Biotech scare stories
Maybe you’ve heard in the news about biotech
corn that:
 threatened monarch butterflies
 snuck its way into the food supply and tainted
tacos
 overtook native maize crops in Mexico
Not true.
You never hear the rest of the story.
You don’t hear about the scientist’s findings that
conclude these rumors to be shady
“An extensive review of 250 scientific
publications which address issues of the
impacts of GM crops has concluded that
many of the concerns which are featured
prominently in media coverage do not
stand up to careful scrutiny.”
-Life Sciences Network
(the review appeared in the January edition of
The Plant Journal)
Europe vs.
Genetically Modified Foods

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Frankenfoods
1998 ban of GMs
Lack of confidence in their regulatory
system after the Mad Cow Disease fiasco
Euro-Toques: main objective is to protect the fine
quality and flavor of food

Labeling
Why 3rd World countries need
Europe to cooperate
“Europe seems to be inward looking when
producing biotech legislation. But any rules
set in Brussels will affect the small scale
farmer in Africa or India.”
Simon Barber
Director of the Plant Biotech Unit at EuropaBio
“We are here to tell our part of the story. In Europe
biotechnology seems to be more about ideology
than about rational choice. For us biotech is an
important tool to fight hunger and malnutrition. We
do not want to be a pawn in the transatlantic trade
squabble. We have our own voice and want to
make our own decisions on how to use this new
technology.”
Professor James Ochanda
Coordinator Biotechnology Laboratory
University of Nairobi, Kenya
Brussels, January 29, 2003
The governments of several countries in
Southern Africa have declared
national disasters due to the food
security crisis
What about the millions of
malnourished people whose
lives could be saved by
transgenic
foods?
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