Traits in plant biotechnology refer to specific, desirable characteristics in a plant, some of which can be found in insect resistant or herbicide tolerant crops, crops with improved nutrition, and crops that are better able to withstand environmental stressors such as drought or floods. Researchers now have the precise tools to copy a gene with a desired trait in one organism and put it into another through genetic engineering.
If only one of these traits is transferred into the plant, it is referred to as a single trait crop, however, it is possible to incorporate multiple traits into a single variety of crop, which is then referred to as stacked traits (obtained through a process known as gene stacking). The most widely adopted biotech crops today are those with input traits such as insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
The most commercially cultivated insect resistant (IR) crops include crops that have been modified with genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common soil bacterium that produces insecticidal proteins which are toxic to specific lepidopteran insect pests such as the maize stalk borer and African cotton bollworm.
Herbicide tolerant (HT) traits on the other hand, provide plants with the ability to resist the toxic effects of certain herbicides. This allows specific herbicide applications for weed control, without harming the crops. The target weeds are eliminated and no longer compete for moisture and nutrients, resulting in higher yields and crop productivity.