Minichromosomal technology does not alter the plants genes in any way. Resulting in faster regulatory approval and a quicker acceptance by farmers.

Using Minichromosomal Technology in Agriculture
Using Minichromosomal Technology in Agriculture

Len Calderone

A stimulating finding in agriculture technology comes in a very small package. I’m talking about a minichromosome, which is a small structure contained in a cell. The minichromosome includes very little genetic material but can hold a quantity of information. 

Agricultural geneticists can add dozens of traits to a plant using minichromosomes. These traits can benefit a plant with drought tolerance and nitrogen usage. Minichromosomal technology does not alter the plants genes in any way. Resulting in faster regulatory approval and a quicker acceptance by farmers.

This technology provides a way to add genes to a synthetic chromosome in a sequential manner. Telomere shortening, united with the introduction of site-specific recombination, which is when two molecules of DNA exchange pieces of their genetic material with each other, has proven to be an easy method to produce minichromosomes. 

The herbicide resistant genes are used for effective weed control and the Bt toxin genes are used for insect resistance. This has produced genetically engineered crops that have been effective in tweaking farming practices by reducing the application of pesticides that are detrimental to both humans and the environment. 

There is a greater potential for genetic engineering to be achieved by technical advances, such as the new development of plant artificial chromosome technology, which permits the management of a large number of genes for the next generation of genetic engineering. Using tools such as gene assembly, genome editing, gene targeting and chromosome delivery systems, it should be possible to engineer crops with multiple genes to grow more agricultural products using fewer natural resources.

Producing sufficient agricultural products is a problem because of the growing population. At the same time, there is a decrease of farmland and natural resources.

Farmers will need to produce at least 23% more agricultural products then they now do just to maintain the current living standards. One estimate is that there will be a demand of 50%–70% increase due to both the growing population and the change in eating patterns.

The planet’s arable land is limited, fresh water is becoming scarce, and more farm land will be used for industrial growth in developing countries. Flooding, salinification and desertification will add to the further loss of arable land.  Plus, our present agriculture practices depend on the substantial use of fresh water and fertilizer. This is not sustainable.

Existing agricultural methods require yield increases based on the moderated usage of natural resources and is environmentally friendly. Therefore, superior crops will be needed using new technologies.

Genetically engineered crops have proliferated into the major crop producing countries of the world. The induction of both Bt toxin and herbicide resistance genes from micro‐organisms into plants has changed agriculture with effective weed control and a decreased use of chemical pesticides. Genetic engineering is the most significant development in agriculture in the last century and has an enormous potential in the future to overcome the growing demand for agricultural products.

We already have genetically modified crops that have had their genetic makeup altered in order to produce more desirable crops. These are crops that are impossible to produce through traditional farming methods.

So, how do genetically engineered crops benefit the consumer? Shoppers who purchase genetically engineered apples can leave slices out for snacking. They won’t brown because because of genetic engineering that prevents their flesh from browning when exposed to air. The ‘Arctic apple’ is one of the first foods to be given a feature meant to please consumers instead of farmers.

A potato variety that is genetically engineered to resist potato blight can help reduce the use of chemical fungicides by up to 90 percent, radically lessening the environmental impact of potato farming. These potatoes will also have reduced bruising and black spots, improved storage capability, and a reduced amount of a chemical, which is created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures, which could be a potential carcinogen.

Framers show that they can reliably increase corn yields up to 10% by changing a gene that increases plant growth, irrespective of whether growing conditions are good or poor. Newer varieties of genetically modified corn have been developed to be drought stress tolerant, to have improved ethanol production, and to have increased lysine content. They are insect resistant, herbicide tolerant, and drought tolerant. 

DuPont developed genetically modified soybeans that reduce trans-fat production, increase soybean oil shelf life and create a generally healthier cooking oil. The GMO soybean oil has 0 grams of trans-fat and more of the monounsaturated fats that are considered heart healthy. They are also insect resistant, and herbicide tolerant.

Genetically modified Papaya varieties, known as Rainbow and SunUp, were established in Hawaii to resist the papaya ringspot virus. The papaya ringspot virus nearly wiped out the crop. The ringspot virus hit the Hawaiian crop in the 1940s and by the 1990s had touched almost every papaya growing area. Today, 90 percent of all papaya is GMO. 

Summer squash and zucchini have been helped by genetic modification. While most GMOs are created to tolerate herbicides or produce an insecticide, GMO squash is intended to be resistant to certain types of viruses. Zucchini yellow mosaic virus is the most predominant of these viruses. This virus is transmitted largely by aphids and causes infected plants to grow small, unhealthy fruit, as it is related to the ringspot disease in papayas.

Alfalfa is the fourth largest U.S. crop in terms of acreage, behind only corn, soybeans, and wheat. Weed infestation reduces alfalfa yields, lowers forage quality, and increases the severity of insect infestations. The modified crop contains a gene that makes the plant resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which allows farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without hurting the plants.

Most canola crops are genetically modified to improve the quality of oil and boost plant tolerance to herbicides. Over 90% of the canola crops grown in the United States are GMO. Canola crops are used to create canola oil and canola meal, which is commonly used to feed animals.

Bt cotton is a GMO or genetically modified pest resistant plant variety, which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm, which is one of the crop’s primary pests. It is also resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup.

* pxfuel

The present application of minichromosome technology is to permit the stacking of genes involved with herbicide tolerance and pest resistance. Future developments could facilitate any application where adding entire biochemical pathways to plants will present new properties or synthesize novel metabolites. Minichromosomes can be produced in most plant species for a wide spectrum of new applications in most agricultural crops.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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