Food Biotechnology Nutrition Opportunity

In the twenty-first century your shopping cart will be filled with an array of new products: foods that taste fresher and more flavorful, more health-promoting varieties of foods, and a greater variety of produce all year long. Today's food biotechnology has already put these foods on your table: canola, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils. Varieties of potatoes, squash, tomatoes, papaya, and others have been developed, too.

Modern biotechnology is simply applying plant science and genetics to improving food production— and food itself. Simply put, it's applied science.

"Traditional" biotechnology began perhaps ten thousand years ago, as farmers raised animals and grew plants to produce food with desirable traits: higher yields, new food varieties, better taste, faster ripening, and more resistance to drought. Five thousand years ago in Peru, potatoes were grown selectively. In ancient Egypt—forty-five hundred years ago—domesticated geese were fed to make them bigger and tastier. About twenty-three hundred years ago, Greeks grafted trees, a technique that led to orchards and a more abundant fruit supply. In fact, products as commonplace as grapefruit and wine came from traditional biotechnology or traditional breeding and selection.

Over the years, farmers have replanted seeds or cross-pollinated from their best crops. And they've bred new livestock from their best animals. For example, within the past few decades, hogs have been bred to be leaner, in turn producing lean cuts of pork for today's consumers.

With traditional breeding, farmers changed the genetic makeup of plants and animals by selecting those with desirable traits. They then raised and selected again and again until a new, more desirable breed or food variety was established. Even in the "old days," this breeding resulted in genetic change.

Traditional cross-breeding takes time. Often it's unpredictable. Each time one plant pollinates another, or one animal inseminates another, thousands of genes cross together. Along the way, less desirable traits— and the genes that cause them—may pass with desir able ones. Several generations of breeding, perhaps ten to twelve years, may go by before desirable traits get established and less desirable qualities are bred away.

Modern biotechnology offers a faster and more precise way to establish new traits in both plants and animals—and so provide improved foods that are safe, nutritious, healthful, abundant, and tasty.

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