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Conclusions: Classroom Activities in Plant Biotechnology

Scientists & Food Production

What do scientists do to help with food production? How many people are affected by the work that we do? Is the world going to be able to sustain itself if scientists are limited in the tools that they can use to improve crops? Should we be afraid to eat food that has been genetically modified?

Mankind has always sought to change food crops through interbreeding with another plant that has more desirable traits. New methods of molecular breeding are much faster and also result in transference of less DNA from the donor plant. Using transgenic or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could provide us with the ability to make rapid changes to our food crops that may be of immense benefit. These crops may be able to withstand pressures such as insect attacks, disease, changing climate and water availability so that we can continue to produce enough food to feed everyone. Although there are always issues that need to be carefully considered and resolved, the advantages of using this type of plant breeding may outweigh the perceived difficulties associated with its use. The DNA that is used to transform a particular plant is often from the same plant species or genus as the recipient plant and in many cases the donor plant is already used as a food crop itself.

“Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science—the mother of all sciences; it remains the science that makes human life possible; and it may well be that, before the century is over, the success or failure of Science as a whole will be judged by the success or failure of agriculture.” 
(Andre and Jean Mayer (1974) "Agriculture-The Island Empire" Daedulus: Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. vol. 103 (this is a long lecture but portions of it could be used to provide information and discussion material for the classroom)