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Agricultural Biotechnology: History, Science, and Society (October 2013): General Agricultural Biotechnology Resources

By Brian R. Shmaefsky

General Agricultural Biotechnology Resources

The Encyclopedia of Biotechnology in Agriculture and Food, edited by Dennis Heldman, Matthew Wheeler, and Dallas Hoover, is a good general resource for users to find descriptions of key concepts.  The book’s 175 entries are divided into three separate sections on plant, animal, and food biotechnology.

First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Foods by Belinda Martineau recalls the story of the first agricultural biotechnology product made available for human consumption.  As previously mentioned, the Flavr Savr tomato was genetically engineered to have a long shelf life without losing freshness.  Reducing the negative effects of post-harvest ripening and spoilage was long the goal of crop agriculture.  Biotechnology solved the problem without the need for many trials of selective breeding.

A host of other crops, such as genetically modified canola, corn, cotton, and soybean, followed the Flavr Savr tomato, as Brian Shmaefsky recounts in Biotechnology on the Farm and in the Factory: Agricultural and Industrial Applications.  These crops were imparted with various traits that could not be achieved with traditional selective breeding.  This included the production of transgenic crop plants, which carried genes from other organisms in their cells.

Introduction to Biotechnology: An Agricultural Revolution by Ray Herren goes into the details of genetically modifying agricultural animals and plants.  One chapter looks at the different uses of biotechnology plants in agriculture and commercial products.  Specific genetic modification techniques are used to alter the plant’s DNA and the genetic material of its organelles.  The chapter on animals focuses on the reproductive technologies used to clone genetically modified domesticated animals for agriculture and for medical products.  The author also investigates the use of biotechnology in food processing.  Today, food preservation and testing methods use many biotechnology tools.  Agricultural Biotechnology by H. D. Kumar and Agricultural Biotechnology, edited by Arie Altman, cover much of the same content as Herren’s book.

The feasibility of agricultural biotechnology is captured in Agricultural Biotechnology: Challenges and Prospects, edited by James Seiber et al.  The book includes a cost-benefit analysis of agricultural biotechnology compared to traditional agriculture.  The first biotechnology crops could not compete with traditionally grown crops due to their higher cost and negative public perceptions.  Much of the book addresses the future growth of the techniques for improving the competitiveness of agricultural biotechnology products.  A thoughtful analysis of the practicality of biotechnology crops is found in Jonathan Gressel’s Genetic Glass Ceilings: Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity.  Gressel is an agricultural researcher who contributed many findings that improved agricultural biotechnology practices.

Fungal Biotechnology in Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Applications, edited by Dilip Arora, looks at the “hidden world” of agricultural biotechnology.  Fungi serve many purposes in agricultural biotechnology.  Mycorrhizal fungi, root-inhabiting fungi, help plants collect soil nutrients, fight disease, and obtain water.  Crops and fungi can be modified so that mycorrhizal associations are not restricted to certain plants and can be encouraged in a variety of crops.  The control of fungal diseases is also important in agricultural animal and crop production.  Fungi can be modified and exploited to improve animal feed and human foods.