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How Safe is Biotechnology?
S.B. Sullia
The Hindu
June 16, 2008

Research options are plenty but concerns remain over ethical issues

This time of the year, every avid student who has completed PUC will be looking for an option for further studies. Is it engineering or medicine, the worn out path, or are there other good courses to pursue? Remember that the country is now lacking in human resource for research in science, and without this important component, there will be no development. We will be dependent on foreign innovations, for which we have to pay heavily. As a student, if you are the one dreaming to be the future scientist, instead of the mundane computer programming, medicine or architecture, choose a science combination in B.Sc. with Biotechnology as one of the options.

Biotechnology is defined as ‘the application of biological methods or processes, to produce products useful to mankind.’ It often involves making molecular changes in living beings for their better utilisation. Plant breeders and fermentation experts have for centuries laboured to improve crops and micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts for better production of food, alcohol and medicine.

Modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, also called recombinant DNA technology, makes possible the transfer of genes (DNA) from one organism to another, thus allowing the recipient organism to express some characteristics associated only with the donor. The new characteristics that the recipient gains will never come through natural processes of fertilization. Thus the scope for genetic engineering is far greater than conventional breeding employed prior to our proper understanding of DNA.


The recombinant DNA technology has the potential to revolutionise medical, agriculture, food and chemical industries, and change the lives of people. The biotechnology industry is now the fastest growing sector. There are more than 2,000 major biotechnology companies in the U.S., 700 in Europe, and a further 1,000 in India and other countries, the majority of which are concerned with the production of pharmaceuticals and enzymes used in food and leather industries.

The expansion in the cultivation of GM (genetically modified) crops has been very rapid in recent years. In 1998, some 29 million hectares of GM crops were cultivated in the U.S., Australia, Argentina, Canada and Mexico. In 1999, in China, one million farmers planted Bt-cotton, a pest resistant GM cotton plant. In the present century, 71 per cent of the world’s commercial GM crops are herbicide-tolerant, 28 per cent are Bt crops, and one per cent others, including virus-resistant crops.

Production of human therapeutics from transgenic bacteria and yeasts is another fertile area of biotechnology. Some important products of genetically engineered microbes are: streptokinase, tissue plasminogen activator (blood clot dissolvers), insulin (hormone for diabetes), human growth hormone (to treat growth retardation), monoclonal antibodies (for treatment of immunological disorders), and interferons (against virus infections).

One of the recent developments is the emergence of Nanotechnology which has great potential in the medical field, especially in drug delivery to specific tissues in the human body, and in the treatment of cancer and liver disorders.

Biosensor technology is also an emerging field with great scope. This is an area where an expert in physics joins a biologist to develop bioelectronic devices. Biosensors are analytical tools made to convert a biochemical signal into quantifiable electrical signal. They have tremendous applications in the field of diagnostics.

Bioinformatics is the synthesis of information technology and biotechnology. There are several universities offering courses in Nanotechnology and Bioinformatics at the PG level. Associated with both medical and agricultural applications, however, are growing concerns over the safety of the new technology.

The technology has given man tremendous powers to alter nature, and this has given rise to two concerns regarding biosafety, and bioethics. Much of the projected hazards are often exaggerated. Scientists should be made responsible to release safe technologies only. Keeping in view the major concerns perceived by environmentalists and scientists themselves, ‘biosafety measures’ have been prescribed by the Government through the Department of Science & Technology & Department of Biotechnology. There are precautions to be taken in handling the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the laboratory, and in their release to the environment. There are special biosafety protocols for biomedical laboratories.


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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
       Approaches to Detect Potential Effects on Butterflies and Natural Enemies

Columns by Dan Gardner

Against the Grains: 'The Terminator Hoax '

Decisions taken in the 84th Meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

Brazilian Health Biotech: Fostering Crosstalk Between Public and Private Sectors

Biotechnology Related Article Appeared on 'Samyukta Karnataka' ( Regional Language )
June 12, 2008.

Nothing Left to the Imagination

The Politics of GM Food
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Managing Director,
Mahyco Monsanto

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Krishidhan Seeds

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Few Checks to Prevent Entry of GM Food

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"Indian Science in Genomics has been Able to Place Itself on the Global Map"

Indian Gene Decoded

The Development of RNAi as a Therapeutic Strategy

FAO E-Conference on Biotechnologies and Water Scarcity

Genetic Landscape

Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture

RH Nature Reviews Genetics 08- Opposition to Transgenic Technologies

Germany: Discussion Paper of German Ag-Industry about EU Biotech Policy Implications

Bt maize performance in Spain

Arsenic speciation varies with type of rice

Why I Am Bothered by Neo-Colonialist NGOs

China experts identify gene for yield, height in rice

The French government has called for a debate on the review of the EU
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly criticised the EU for "undue delays" in the authorisation of GMOs. See the latest WTO ruling:

The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

EU delays decision on approving more GM crops

UCR Geneticist Plays Scientific Advisor to Movie about “Love, Adventure and ... Genetically Modified Rice”

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Call for policing
Ijaz Ahmed Rao discusses the virtues of a bio-safety framework for genetically modified crops, now that they have become farmers’ favourite

Stem cells: The 3-billion-dollar question

Genes as the solution

Food crisis spurs research spending

Global Food Crisis / UN / Bilingual Transcript of Statements by Secretary-General, Heads of Concerned Agencies, and Response to Questions at Press Conference on Global Food CrisisGM Crops, A World View

Mass Protests against GM Crops in IndiaInterference at the EPA

Open letter to Robert B. Zoellick, President, World BankNew BT variety may push short staple cotton output.

The future of agricultural biotechnology: Creative, destruction, adoption, or irrelevance? ICABR Conference 2008

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

Prof. Kameswara Rao and Dr. T.M. Manjunath's Participation in 2008 Biotech Activities

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