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Part 4a. Methods of increasing food production and improving sustainability

4a. GM crops - genetically modified plants to increase yields or quality

Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes

Can GM crops help?  Why are GM crops controversial?  Are there alternatives to GM crops?

Sub-index of notes on how to increase food production

Sub-index of notes on ALL aspects of food security

4(a) GM crops can help, but it is only one approach to increasing food production

(advantages and disadvantages of GM technology)

I've describe some ideas in more detail on my GM crop developments page, applications so far include:

Genetically engineered crops designed to:

(i) be pest resistant - insects/fungi/pathogens,

(ii) survive in drought conditions,

(iii) unaffected by herbicides used to protect the crop from weeds.

These are all potentially beneficial applications of genetically engineered crops and should reduce waste damaged crops.

Crops can also be GM designed to combat certain nutrient deficiencies e.g. increasing the content of a chemical in 'Golden Rice' that helps make Vitamin A in the body.

Again this is good science, the concept of food security includes nutritional quality.

However, there are still issue of concern and situations where GM might not help e.g.

Poor quality soil lacking in nutrients or water means crops will fail, even if they are GM.

Hunger exists where people cannot afford to buy food, even if it is available, therefore you need political and economic strategies to tackle poverty and improve/make fairer the economy and maybe import food too.

There is a danger that the agricultural production of a country might be too dominated by multinational companies that manufacture the GM seeds and are only interested in maximising profits for the few (rich) at the expense of the many (poor).

GM crops are not the complete answer and neither should they always the 'first choice' in the future.

However, traditional methods of selective breeding for crops (and animals too!) can still produce varieties of crops and livestock which give improved yields.

Other genetic methods for increasing crop yields

Scientific research of plant genes gives us detailed genomes of different plant species.

From this genome knowledge you can selectively cross-breed plants which have advantageous genes

e.g. that give plants more resistant to weather conditions (dry, wet, hot, cold) and other abiotic factors - make crops more efficient in water use, cope with dry periods,

and make them more resistant to biotic factors such as pests e.g. insects and diseases which damage crops.

It might be better to breeding higher yielding strains of crops by traditional non-GM methods.

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