How are biotech crops created?

The concept of plant biotechnology can sometimes be confusing, especially when trying to put terms such as GMO, genetic engineering and plant breeding into context. To get a better understanding of this, we need to understand how plant breeding evolved to what it is now.

Farmers have been using traditional breeding methods for millennia to obtain higher yielding crops and foods with improved nutrition. They did this through a variety of methods, such as crossbreeding and selective breeding, to ensure the most desirable traits (characteristics) of plants were carried into the next generation. The challenge with more traditional breeding, however, is that it involves the transfer of many genes from one plant to another, essentially meaning that the outcome cannot be predicted because there is no exact control over which genes are carried over to the next generation. Another challenge is the time involved in finally getting the desired product.

Plant biotechnology is a continuation of this time-tested plant breeding process, that includes a set of techniques that makes plant breeding a more precise and faster process, and by doing so, it addresses many of the challenges facing food production today. The products derived from plant biotech are sometimes also referred to as GM (genetically modified) crops, GE (genetically engineered) crops or GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Because scientists can now sequence plant genomes more efficiently and are better able to link a specific gene to a specific trait, plant breeders can bring together the exact genetic material for the desired characteristics.