Selected aspects of biotechnology in horticulture – protection of genetically modified plants
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Before discovering methods of genetic transformation, people had to improve the quality of plants by artificial selection and crossing. Nowadays, these actions have been taken up by genetic engineering which requires significantly less time to achieve the expected features. Genetically modified are mostly plants of great economic value. Changing the genome is expected to result in obtaining a plant with desired features. The most common modifications are: 1. Resistance to crop protection chemicals. Giving the plant the resistance to the herbicide allows for its farming without the risk of damaging the crop. The modified plants have either completely new or additional copies of an already present gene responsible for synthesizing enzymes decomposing herbicides. A plant able to decompose herbicides becomes resistant to them. 2. Resistance to diseases caused by fungi, viruses, and bacteria. It may be acquired by introducing a transgene encoding the enzymes destroying the pathogens’ cell wall. Another transformed gene encodes osmotin – a protein associating with the pathogen’s cell membrane, causing its destruction. Resistance to viruses is acquired by introducing genes which encode the proteins of the virus’ capsid and its enzymes. The presence of these proteins results in a milder infection caused by this virus or significantly delayed onset of the disease’s symptoms. 3. Resistance to pests – insects. The Bt gene responsible for such resistance is obtained from a soil bacteria Bacillus thuringensis. The gene encodes a specific protein – Cry – which is toxic to insects. The pest dies after consuming the plant’s cells. Currently, contrary to popular opinion, the range of genetically modified crops is rather small. In Europe, only two genetically modified plants have been allowed for use: MON 810 corn (Monsanto) and Amflora potato (BASF). However, genetic modifications of plant aimed at improving their protection against pathogens or their tolerance to plant protection chemicals give various positive results. Resistance to herbicides results in, among others: less strict rules concerning time of application, lower number of uses needed since both monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous weeds are destroyed, environment protection by reduced use of the active agent, reduction of production cost by limited expenses on herbicides. Also, implanting the plants with resistance to fungi, viruses and bacteria, as well as to pests, result in economic, environmental and health profits. Thus, there is need for continued research in the use and protection of genetically modified plants.
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