AusAg & Foodtech - Agricultural Biotechnology

What is agricultural biotechnology?

Based on an understanding of DNA, scientists have developed solutions to increase agricultural productivity. Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques used to improve plants, animals and microorganisms and includes classical plant breeding, marker assisted selection, and genetic modification.

Background

Farmers have long used selective plant breeding to improve crop yields and nutritional content. Between 9,000 to 11,000 years ago human societies began the process of improving wild plants and animals through the selection and breeding of desirable characteristics, by artificial selection, the intentional breeding of certain traits, or combinations of traits, over others. This breeding has resulted in the domesticated plants and animals that are commonly used in crop and livestock agriculture. Traits are passed from one generation to the next through genes, which are made of DNA1. All living things - including the fruits, vegetables and meat that we eat - contain genes that tell cells how to function.

Classical plant breeding

Classical plant breeding uses deliberate interbreeding of closely or distantly related individuals to produce plants or animals with desirable agricultural properties.

Marker assisted breeding

Sometimes traits may be under the control of many different genes. The use of tools such as molecular markers or DNA fingerprinting can map thousands of genes. This allows breeders to screen large populations for those that possess the trait of interest.

Genetic modification

Genetic modification enables improvements that are not possible with traditional crossing of related species alone. Genetic modification is achieved by adding a specific gene or genes to a plant or animal, or by removing the effects of a gene to produce desirable agricultural characteristics.

Agriculture biotechnology includes:

 Plant biotechnology (eg tissue culture, embryogenesis, genetic markers, genetic engineering, plant breeding, floriculture, forestry);

 Animal biotechnology (eg. diagnostics, therapeutics, embryo transplantation, genetic markers, genetic engineering, animal breeding, anti-microbials); and

 Biofertilisers, biopesticide, bioherbicides, biological additives, microbial pest control, hormones, pheremones, and other agrichemicals.

Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA)

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is an industry initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the Grains Research & Development Corporation and the National Farmers’ Federation. It was established to assist informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information.

ABCA aims to ensure that the Australian farming sector can appropriately access and adopt biotechnology for the benefit of national and global food security, the nation’s farming sector, and the environment, thus helping to deliver a more sustainable and prosperous future for Australian agriculture.

New research in agbiotech include drought tolerance, which is a key technology for Australia given our chronic water supply problems, as well as research into acidity and salinity tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency and nutritional enhancement. Biotechnology innovations also ensure that Australian farmers can supply both our domestic and international markets while reducing the environmental food print of agriculture through reduced use of pesticides and other environmental contaminants.

Visit the website of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia.