Transgenic Plants

Transgenic plants are plants created by introducing genes from other species with the help of genetic engineering. Such plants are usually developed to produce certain desirable characteristics, like disease resistance, pest and herbicide resistance, and resistance to certain environmental conditions.
Researcher and microscope with a GMO vegetables in the laboratory
A transgenic organism refers to a type of genetically modified organism, whose genetic material is manipulated to produce an altered organism with a desired trait. To achieve this purpose, the genetic material or DNA of an organism is injected into the nucleus of the reproductive cell of another organism of the same or different species. This is basically done to transfer or produce a desirable trait in the modified organism.
This technique of creating transgenic organism is called recombinant DNA technology. In other words, transgenic organisms are organisms with a single or multiple genes transferred from another organism of the same or different species. The entire process is carried out in the laboratory with the help of the recombinant DNA technology. This procedure can be carried out in both plants and animals.
Genetically Modified Plants
Genetically modified plants are created by inserting genetic materials from a different species, so as to transfer some special characteristics to them. Genes from a different species can be inserted in a particular plant in various ways. Usually, it is easier to produce transgenic plants, as compared to transgenic animals. In plants, there is no difference between somatic and germ cells, and hence genes can be easily introduced into the somatic cells and tissues, to produce transgenic or genetically modified plants.
Earlier, a new plant variety containing the genes of two different varieties was created by hybridization or cross breeding. However, such breeding was carried out between two related species. But modern biotechnology and genetic engineering have enabled us to incorporate genetic materials from not only a related, but also from an unrelated species, in order to create genetically modified plants. Bt corn, Bt cotton, and golden rice are some common examples of plants created in this way.
Good or Bad?
The production of transgenic plants and the introduction of foreign genetic material is a highly debatable issue. A number of benefits, as well as risks associated with generating such plants have been highlighted by scientific studies. One of the main benefits is that we can incorporate some highly desirable traits, like resistance to certain diseases, pests, and herbicides in a plant with this technology. This in turn, can increase food production to meet the rising demand for food.
Another advantage is that, with the help of genetic engineering, it is possible to produce plants that can tolerate harsh environmental conditions like drought and cold. Even soil laden with salts can be made cultivable by producing modified plants, that can grow in soil with high salinity.
All the aforementioned advantages can ultimately be a boon to the agricultural sector. With the growing concern about the environmental impacts of large-scale use of insecticides and pesticides, it is very important to reduce the use of such chemicals. Genetically engineered plants that are resistant to pests can play an important role in reducing the use of chemicals like pesticides.
On the other hand, plant varieties that are resistant to herbicides can reduce the adverse effects of such chemicals, while the development of transgenic plants resistant to insects can help cut down the total amount of insecticides used. This in turn can improve environmental quality. Apart from these, some genetically engineered plants can produce higher levels of some crucial nutrients, which can improve the nutritional value of certain foods.
Despite all these benefits, the development of genetically altered plants is largely criticized, mainly due to the fact that these plants can have an adverse impact on the environment, ecosystem, and biodiversity. Many have also expressed a fear that the genetic material of such plants can get transferred to the non-genetically modified plants, which can create some new problems. For example, if the herbicide-resistant quality of such plants gets transferred to weeds, then weed control can become quite difficult.
Moreover, some transgenic foods developed for animals have been found to trigger allergic reactions. However, no incidence of severe allergies has been reported for food manufactured for human consumption. Another issue raised by the critics is that these plants can release antibiotic resistant genes in the soil, which can make the soil microorganisms resistant to antibiotics.
Apart from these, laboratory studies have suggested that the introduction of these plants can affect other organisms. For example, pollen of Bt corn can adversely affect the larvae of monarch butterflies and moths, if they feed on the leaves of the milkweed plant coated with the pollen of Bt corn. However, the proponents of transgenic or genetically engineered plants have refuted this allegation. They are of the opinion that the pollen of Bt corn on milkweed leaves may not reach a highly concentrated level to affect the population of monarch butterflies.
The risks associated with the development of transgenic plants is a controversial issue. More concrete studies and research are required to resolve these controversies, so that consumers can find out the truth about genetically engineered plants and food. Apart from these, many ethical considerations are also associated with transgenesis, which also need to be addressed properly.