Food biotechnology; importance, applications and disadvantages

Food biotechnology is a branch of food science that addresses the production, preservation, quality control and research and development of food products. Biotechnology is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of processes for using living organisms such as plants, animals, microbes, or any part of these organisms to develop new or improved food products. It includes the newer forms of food biotechnology that offer a faster and more precise means to develop food products. It employs the use of recombinant DNA technology or fermentation processes and has numerous applications.

 History of food biotechnology

Food biotechnology is not new. For thousands of years people have been discovering that fruit juices ferment into wine, that milk can be used to develop products such as cheese or yogurt, or that beer can be made through the fermentation of malt and hops. In the 1860s, the scientist Gregor Mendel illuminated the genetic principles behind how parent plants donate certain traits to their progeny. These principles were used to breed hybrid corn, wheat, and many other crops in which certain traits could be selected in order to increase plant yield. Such breeding methods largely accounted for the phenomenal gains in crop productivity during the 20th century and led to modern farming practices.

People have been harnessing biological processes to improve their quality of life for some 10,000 years, beginning with the first agricultural communities. Approximately 6,000 years ago, humans began to tap the biological processes of microorganisms in order to make bread, alcoholic beverages, and cheese and to preserve dairy products. But such processes are not what is meant today by biotechnology, a term first widely applied to the molecular and cellular technologies that began to emerge in the 1960s and ’70s. A fledgling “biotech” industry began to coalesce in the mid- to late 1970s, led by Genentech, a pharmaceutical company established in 1976 by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert W. Boyer to commercialize the recombinant DNA technology pioneered by Boyer, Paul Berg, and Stanley N. Cohen. Early companies such as Genentech, Amgen, Biogen, Cetus, and Genex began by manufacturing genetically engineered substances primarily for medical and environmental uses.

Today, in the arena of food, the primary goals of food biotechnology are to provide a more abundant, less expensive, and a more nutritious food supply in order to address the needs of our growing global population. For more than a decade, the biotechnology industry was dominated by recombinant DNA technology, or genetic engineering. This technique consists of splicing the gene for a useful protein (often a human protein) into production cells—such as yeast, bacteria, or mammalian cells in culture—which then begin to produce the protein in volume. In the process of splicing a gene into a production cell, a new organism is created. At first, biotechnology investors and researchers were uncertain about whether the courts would permit them to acquire patents on organisms; after all, patents were not allowed on new organisms that happened to be discovered and identified in nature. But, in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty, resolved the matter by ruling that “a live human-made microorganism is patentable subject matter.” This decision spawned a wave of new biotechnology firms and the infant industry’s first investment boom. In 1982 recombinant insulin became the first product made through genetic engineering to secure approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, dozens of genetically engineered protein medications have been commercialized around the world, including recombinant versions of growth hormone, clotting factors, proteins for stimulating the production of red and white blood cells, interferons, and clot-dissolving agents.

Types of food biotechnology

Traditional biotechnology; Older food biotechnology techniques include conventional crossbreeding, which refers to the random recombination of genes through sexual reproduction leading to a new organism with improved traits.  Crossbred plants, for instance, may require several generations to achieve a particular trait due to the randomness of gene transfer. Examples of such traits are improved crop yield, aesthetic qualities, increased tolerance to physical stress such as cold temperatures, and increased resistance to disease and insects.

Modern food biotechnology;  this techniques include the joining of two pieces of DNA from different organisms leading to a single piece of DNA.  Individual “specific” genes are transferred from one organism to another in order to improve the nutrient levels of a food, for example, such as fortifying a fruit or vegetable. Modern techniques are much faster and more precise. It is possible to quickly transfer a specific gene of interest rather than waiting on the random shuffling of genes over several generations.

 Applications of biotechnology

Biotechnology has numerous applications, particularly in medicine and agriculture. Examples include the use of biotechnology in merging biological information with computer technology (bioinformatics), exploring the use of microscopic equipment that can enter the human body (nanotechnology), and possibly applying techniques of stem cell research and to replace dead or defective cells and tissues (regenerative medicine). Companies and academic laboratories integrate these disparate technologies in an effort to analyze downward into molecules and also to synthesize upward from molecular biology toward chemical pathways, tissues, and organs.

In addition to being used in health care, biotechnology has proved helpful in refining industrial processes through the discovery and production of biological enzymes that spark chemical reactions (catalysts); for environmental cleanup, with enzymes that digest contaminants into harmless chemicals and then die after consuming the available “food supply”; and in agricultural production through genetic engineering.

applications of biotechnology have proved the most controversial. Some activists and consumer groups have called for bans on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or for labeling laws to inform consumers of the growing presence of GMOs in the food supply. In the United States, the introduction of GMOs into agriculture began in 1993, when the FDA approved bovine somatotropin (BST), a growth hormone that boosts milk production in dairy cows. The next year, the FDA approved the first genetically modified whole food, a tomato engineered for a longer shelf life. Since then, regulatory approval in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere has been won by dozens of agricultural GMOs, including crops that produce their own pesticides and crops that survive the application of specific herbicides used to kill weeds.

Studies by the United Nations, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the European Union, the American Medical Association, U.S. regulatory agencies, and other organizations have found GMO foods to be safe, but skeptics contend that it is still too early to judge the long-term health and ecological effects of such crops. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the land area planted in genetically modified crops increased dramatically, from 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) in 1996 to 180 million hectares (445 million acres) by 2014. By 2014–15 about 90 percent of the corn, cotton, and soybeans planted in the United States were genetically modified. The majority of genetically modified crops were grown in the Americas.

Overall, the revenues of U.S. and European biotechnology industries roughly doubled over the five-year period from 1996 through 2000. Rapid growth continued into the 21st century, fueled by the introduction of new products, particularly in health care. By 2020 the biotechnology market size was estimated at $752.88 billion globally, with new opportunities for growth emerging in particular from government- and industry-driven efforts to accelerate drug development and product-approval processes.

Importance of biotechnology

In agriculture

Biotechnology improves crop insect resistance, enhances crop herbicide tolerance and facilitates the use of more environmentally sustainable farming practices. Biotechnology feeds the world by generating higher crop yields with fewer inputs, lowering volumes of agricultural chemicals required by crops-limiting the run-off of these products into the environment, using biotech crops that need fewer applications of pesticides and that allow farmers to reduce tilling farmland, developing crops with enhanced nutrition profiles that solve vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, producing foods free of allergens and toxins such as mycotoxin, and improving food and crop oil content to help improve cardiovascular health.
Biotech in agriculture
Biotechnology in Agriculture

In health

Biotechnology heals the world by utilizing nature’s own toolbox and using our own genetic makeup to heal and guide lines of research by reducing rates of infectious disease, saving millions of children’s lives changing the odds of serious, life-threatening conditions affecting millions around the world, tailoring treatments to individuals to minimize health risks and side effects, creating more precise tools for disease detection, and combating serious illnesses and everyday threats confronting the developing world.
B. tech in health
Biotechnology in health sciences

Energy production

Biotechnology uses biological processes such as fermentation and harnesses biocatalysts such as enzymes, yeast, and other microbes to become microscopic manufacturing plants. Biotechnology fuels the world by streamlining the steps in chemical manufacturing processes by 80% or more, lowering the temperature for cleaning clothes and potentially saving $4.1 billion annually, improving manufacturing process efficiency to save 50% or more on operating costs, reducing use of and reliance on petrochemicals, using biofuels to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 52% or more, decreasing water usage and waste generation, and tapping into the full potential of traditional biomass waste products.
Biotechnology in energy production

 Examples of biotechnology products

Examples of products developed through food biotechnology include corn varieties containing a bacterial gene that kills insects and soybeans inserted with an gene that renders them resistant to weed killers such as Roundup.1 Cotton, squash, and papaya are other examples of commodities in which biotechnology was used to reduce pesticide use, increase profitability through greater yield, and ultimately reduce the cost of commodities at the consumer level.
Foods developed through biotechnology to increase the levels of nutrients or to address a health concern include oils, such as canola, in which the levels of nutritionally essential fatty acids are increased, varieties of wheat that do not contain gluten, and potatoes (protein), kiwi (resveratrol), and lettuce (iron).

Disadvantages of biotechnology

Although biotechnology has produced many benefits for humanity, its applications have also resulted in some undesirable consequences such as diminished species biodiversity as well as diminished agrobiodiversity, environmental contamination, and the exploitation of intellectual property rights and patents in appropriating the biodiversity of developing countries.

The risk of outcrossing, where genes from GMO foods pass into wild plants and other crops. a negative impact on insects and other species. reduction in other plant types, leading to a loss of biodiversity.

potential health risks related to the consumption of GMOs
  • Unexpected gene interactions.
  • Cancer risks.
  • Allergenic potential.
  • Horizontal gene transfer (HGT)
  • Antibiotic resistance.



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