Biotechnology alters plants to meet requirements of agriculture, nutrition and industry
Recent years have witnessed spectacular developments in plant biotechnology. In 1984 the group of Jeff Schell and Marc van Montagu in Cologne and Gent, and the group of Robert Horsch and collaborators of the Monsanto Company in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), simultaneously published procedures for the transfer of foreign DNA into the genome of plants utilizing the Ti plasmids of Agrobacterium tumefaciens (new nomenclature: Rhizobium radiobacter). This method has made it possible to alter the protein complement of a plant spe-cifically to meet special requirements: for example, to render plants resistant to pests or herbicides, to achieve a qualitative or quantitative improvement of the productivity of crop plants, and to adapt plants to the production of defined sustainable raw materials for the chemical industry.
Hardly any other discovery in botany has had such far-reaching conse-quences in such a short time, when one considers that in 2009 the biotech crop area reached 134 million hectare (about 7% of the global crop area). The main crops altered by genetic engineering using Agrobacterium tume-faciens are soy beans, cotton, maize and rape seed. These numbers demon-strate that the results of basic research on an exotic theme, namely, the gall formation in a plant, has led to a technique that brought about a revolution in agriculture.
The following sections will describe how a plant can be altered by genetic engineering. From the abundance of established procedures, only the prin-ciples of some major methods can be outlined here. For the sake of brevity, details or complications in methods will be omitted. Some practical examples will show how genetic engineering can be used to alter crop plants.
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