By: Sana Afzal
If you are student of Biology then you must be aware of Irish potato famine. Irish potato famine occurred in Ireland in mid 1800 in which a pathogen P. infestans attacked potatoes. As potatoes were staple food of Irish people in mid 1800 so many people died because potatoes were missing. There was only one variety of potato at that time, that was not infected, otherwise all potatoes were infected and no more species of potato were available for people to eat. The reason of low diversity of plant species such as potatoes is that naturally the plant species undergo evolution at low rate as compare to animals and other species. As evolution give rise to diversity at genetic level so this genetic diversity cause diversity at specie level.
If genetic material of plant is changed by using recombination or fertilization then genetically modified (GMO) plants are formed. In genetic engineering the DNA molecule is taken from different plants and combined to form a new DNA molecule having characteristics of interest this is known as recombinant DNA technology. It is claimed that if at the time of Irish potato famine the diversity among potato species was present then, P. infestans could attack only on one potato specie and remaining specie may remain safe for human consumption. By making GMO species of plants, people will not starve to death by missing of one specie.
Biotechnologists can artificially introduce many desired characteristics in GMO plants to make them fit survive the environmental stress. The traits that are introduced in GMO plants are pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought resistance & enhanced nutritional values. There are about 12 million farmers growing GM crops across 23 countries. Six countries produce almost 95% of genetically modified crop worldwide including, United states, China, India, Brazil, Argentina and Canada .
GMO plants can revolutionize the agriculture industry and many universities in Pakistan are also making GMO crops in their research projects and telling local farmers to buy the GMO seeds to improve their crop yield and quality. GMO crops have a lot of benefits as previously farmers used chemical pesticides for killing pests that have harmful effect on human health, now GM pest resistance crops have replaced chemical pesticides. An example of pest resistant crop is BT cotton. Herbs that stop the growth of plants are finished by herbicides sprays. But these sprays are expensive so GM crops that are herbicide resistant are used instead of these sprays. Transgenic plants are made which are resistant to diseases caused by viruses, fungi & bacteria for example transgenic barley and wheat are made to stop Fusarium Head Blight.
By 2050 the population of world will double, which require more land for living. So by creating GM crops resistant to drought and salinity will beneficial to grow in already available area. People who live in third world countries face malnutrition and wheat and/0r rice is their main food. All nutrients essential for human health are not present in rice so GM rice can be made which have nutrients to meet nutrition demands of people. By climate change, deforestation and industrial activity and the level of green house gases is increasing in the environment. We can grow GM trees for carbon sequestration.
If we grow GMO plants then they may hybridize with wild type plant (non-GMO) by cross breeding and GMO plants overcome wild type plants. When mating occurs between different plant species they produce different types of plant and plant diversity usually increases. When GMO plants are close to wild type plants both of these plants can cross pollinate and a hybrid plant is formed.
As GMO are more fitted to environment because of their traits they may prevail and opponents to GMO plant claim that these hybrid plants could grow in more number than other wild type plant and production of wild type plants will decrease so plant biodiversity will decrease.
On one hand GMO plants are increasing genetic diversity of plants and on the other hand they are threat to existence of wild type plants ultimately decreasing biodiversity of plants . Scientists are searching ways to limit the spread of GMO in wild plant population so that world can get maximum benefit of GMO plants.