The two traditional disciplines that will be analyzed are agriculture and genetics while the interdisciplinary one is biotechnology. The new field has come of age as it now has the potential to solve the problem of world hunger.
Overlap between the new discipline and the traditional ones
Agriculture is one of the natural sciences that contributed to the interdisciplinary yield of biotechnology. Players in the agricultural industry have always engaged in certain practices that have inspired stakeholders in biotechnology. For instance, agriculturalists have been engaging in selective breeding for a long time. This is the process of taking closely related species and breeding them with the expectation that their offspring will possess the desirable characteristics.
Likewise, biotechnologists also do breeding but unlike agriculturists who consider similar varieties, they can get genes from very different species types. In genetic engineering, which is a key component of the field of biotechnology, scientists can use DNA from unrelated specimens. For instance, they may obtain DNA from viruses, a plant, and an animal.
This DNA will then be biochemically combined to create a gene construct that may consist of five or more sources. Afterwards, the construct is replicated in bacteria and then injected into a plant species at its embryonic phase. These injections may be administered on a number of embryos in order to increase their chances of survival. Only a few of the targeted plants will grow into a full organism.
Therefore, the main area of overlap between agriculture and biotechnology is selectivity in breeding. However, agriculturists respect the evolutionary origin of the targeted species while biotechnologists do not restrict themselves in this regard. They may take genes from a plant and place them in an animal and vice versa (Fergelson et al., 1998).
Agriculturalists and biotechnologists both depend on certain biological processes for the creation of products. In agriculture, individuals perpetuate the growth of new crops and animals through asexual and sexual reproduction. These are all biological processes that can be easily understood and manipulated.
Similarly biotechnologists depend on biological processes to create their own outcomes. The main area of difference is the nature of biological processes chosen. Agriculturalists depend on conventional processes while biotechnologists use genetic promoters to transfer the new genetic material into the host species.
For instance, a desirable gene from a different plant may be inserted into a target plant using a virus as the transporter. The purpose of using a third-party organism is to get the genetic material to penetrate and integrate into areas that would have been conventionally rejected (Lorenz and Wackernagel, 1994). Therefore, these two fields manipulate biological processes in different ways thus explaining the unpredictable nature of some products in biotechnology.
The second traditional discipline is genetics which has a number of similarities with biotechnology. Geneticists focus on DNA and its subsequent functions. This may sometimes involve genetic manipulation, where genes extracted from one organism enter another. Techniques used in genetics are useful in regulating genes, altering their functions and structure.
Likewise in biotechnology, genes are often manipulated in the same way to create new products for human use (Demain & Adrio, 2012). For instance, antibodies are created using recombinant technology, and one such example is penicillin. Therefore, these two schools of thought are similar in the way they depend on genetic manipulation and DNA recombination.
Genetics differs from biotechnology because all concerns in genetics revolve around genes while biotechnology may consist of non gene element. In this regard, tissues, cells and whole organizations may also be studied and used by scientists in this field. Unlike geneticists, who do not adopt such a holistic approach, biotechnologists may work on plant tissue or seed production for hybridization purposes.
A typical example of how non genetic biotechnology has been applied is the alcohol industry, where microorganisms are used to make products. Additionally, microorganisms create useful products such as vitamins and organic acids (Friedman, 2008). Therefore, the main difference between genetics and biotechnology is its focus on other non-genetic processes. Geneticists only restrict themselves to DNA procedures.
New discoveries and techniques emerging from the new discipline
Biotechnologists have discovered ways of imparting new and desirable traits into other species. This has been applied in medicine, agriculture, industrial production and many other aspects of the economy. Sometimes the process may lead to production of a genetically superior product or it may create a situation in which species have higher chances of survival in their respective environments (National Academy of Sciences, 2001).
Biotechnologists are also working on processes that are designed to protect various species from predators. In this regard, they can inject a certain gene into the host species and this would make it lethal to the predator. The method holds a lot of promise in agriculture.
Some new processes are being developed to slightly modify the characters of certain species. For instance, if they predominantly contained a certain chemical element, then they can be genetically altered so as to change their internal make up.
How the technology could be used to solve the problem of GMOs and food
Biotechnology is already making an impact in the area of agriculture by availing genetically modified foods. Over the past two decades, the quantity of commercial crops that have emerged from the field of biotechnology has been quite impressive.
As mentioned in the previous section, the transference of certain characteristics from one species to another in biotechnology can assist individuals in production of crops with high yield. It should, however, be noted that currently, most GMOs do not increase crop yield; genetic interventions largely causes crops to cope with their external conditions.
In the future, it is likely that biotechnology will assist in making better GMOs, which can directly increase crop yield (James, 1999). Currently, GMOs hold a lot of promise in tackling world hunger because they can transfer virus resistance of certain crops to edible varieties and this prevents their destruction.
A case in point is genetically modified rice that can resist the yellow mottle virus. This disease has wiped out several crops in third world countries, so the GMO species could really assist the third world. Biotechnologists are yet to develop other plant varieties that can deal with excess salinity in soil or other difficult environmental conditions. However, the possibility of this occurring is high.
The technique of making certain species lethal against their predators has greatly assisted in wading off unwanted insects in various GMOS. For instance, a bacterium called Bt is a natural insecticide owing to its toxins (Thieman & Palladino, 2008).
Biotechnologists have found a way of injecting genes from the bacterium into corn. As a result, insects that try to feed on the genetically modified corn will immediately stop eating and die. The biotechnological technique has eliminated the need for chemical weed control, which has numerous costs and effects on the corn plantation.
Similarly, this approach has also been used to make crops more resistant to herbicides. Therefore, such crops do not die or encounter injuries during weed management. In fact, the most prevalent application of biotechnology in food cultivation is the use of herbicide resistant and insect resistant GMOs. These have protected farmers from loss and made foods available in large quantities (Martineau, 2001).
Scientists are working on methods that will alter the protein quality of maize. As mentioned earlier, biotechnologists have developed techniques designed to alter the chemical composition of certain species. In this case, maize, which predominantly consists of carbohydrates as its main components, has now been genetically altered to contain elements of protein (Walsh, 2000).
This type of GMO could assist many starving populations around the world. A number of children in third world countries are malnourished because all they can eat is maize. If they get GMOs that have been altered to contain proteins, then they would get two forms of nutrition from one plant. These nutrients could protect many poor children from kwashiorkor, which is a protein-deficiency disease.
Regardless of all these benefits, a number of protests have been made against the proliferation of GMOs, especially in the developing world where it is needed most. Some of these individuals affirm that western nations are damping untested GMOs in their countries and this could harm their genetic pool.
Biotechnology holds a lot of promise for starving populations around the world. However, in order to benefit from these initiatives, concerned scientists and governments must instate rigorous testing programs and standards (Borlaug, 2000). Unless safety measures are established, then biotechnologists will not make an impact on global hunger.
The disciplines of agriculture and genetics utilize methods and approaches that have led to the development of biotechnology. However, the multidisciplinary approach of the subject has increased the options and techniques available to scientists. Now new traits can be transferred to products and food resistance can be increased. This has the effect of increasing food availability.
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