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Agrobiotechnology: the keys of the sector that mostly is going to impact in our future

A fundamental pillar in the present and the future is the agrobiotechnology. Globalization, development and new technologies play an important role in today’s world, but are presenting to society with a series of challenges that we must face: climate change, population overgrowth or the presence of fake news could be an example. 

In order to overcome them, it is necessary to combine agriculture and industry, open the doors to the possibilities offered to us by the sea (what is known as the blue revolution) and offer good communication to society about the contributions that science can offer, in order than them do not remain unheeded.

greenhouse cultivation (Unsplash)

The use of molecular biology in agriculture and the food industry, such as genetic modification of plants, allow us to offer new features that improve the product`s presence on the market and/or increase environmental sustainability. Perhaps because of its importance, this issue was one of those which inaugurated the past day 25 of september the fair Biospain 2018, held in Seville, during the Forum of Agrobiotechnology, which was attended by leading researchers in this field, as:

Graham Brookes, agricultural economist in PG Economics Ltd, a consultant to United Kingdom focused on industries based on agriculture and other natural resources. His career has more than 30 years of experience in the agri-food sector. Since the late 90s has conducted a series of research projects on the impact of biotechnology, with a large presence in scientific journal articles.

In his presentation, Graham Brookes explained the benefits of the corn resistant to herbicides:

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  • It has been able to reduce in 671 million kgs the use of pesticides, with the consequent reduction of the negative impact they have on the environment.
  • Have led to an increase in farm incomes at the global level of 186.1 billion dollars.
  • There have been produced 659 million tonnes of food.
  • In 2016 have meant a reduction of CO2 emissions of 27.1 billion kg, equivalent to removing 16.7 million cars off the road.

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The solutions presented by the hand of the experts in Agrobiotechnology
In this Forum of agro-biotechnology developed within the framework of the International Fair of the Biotech Industry, Biospain 2018, also participated the following experts, which constitute some of the most important promoters of agrobiotechnology today:

Ignasi Papell, business development manager of food industry of Eurecat Technological Center of Catalonia. It is a chemical engineer with experience in business innovation and research and development projects at European and national level.

 

Paco Egea, professor of analytical chemistry in the Universidad de Almería. He is an expert in food security and agricultural practices of greenhouse gas emissions, with more than 55 articles published in scientific journals.

 

Jordi García-Mas, a researcher at the plant genomics program and animal of the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) of Barcelona, with more than 76 publications and coordinator of the project of sequencing the genome of the melon, MELONOMICS.

 

Eduardo Díaz, leader of the Environmental Microbiology of the Center for Biological Research of the CSIC, in Madrid. He has published more than 100 articles on the molecular and genetic aspects of biodegradation and bioconversion of contaminants in bacteria.

 

Andreu Palou, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Nutrition and Biotechnology of University of the Balearic Islands, and of the Research Group of nutrigenomics and obesity of the CIBEROBN (Center for Biomedical Research on Obesity and Nutrition Network). In addition to being the author of a whole battery of articles and patents, has been vice president of the Scientific Panel on Nutrition of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The data collected over the past 20 years also support the claim that this sector has the ability to impact for well both the environment and the market. The development of agro-biotechnology not only will allow us to feed an expanding population (with between 9 to 11 billion estimated for 2050), also allows us to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner, minimizing the environmental impact.

 

How is produced the genetic modification of agricultural crops?

progression of the increase in the size of the fruit during the domestication of tomato, with “a” being the most ancestral and “c” as current. Cong B, Barrero LS, Tanksley SD card. Nature Genetics (2008).

From the beginning of agriculture the human being has been taming the crops, generating a great impact on them and radically changing their phenotype: increasing the size of the varieties, improving its flavor, reducing its content in seeds… The traditional approach implies a development time of between 5 and 30 years, and are not directed to the modification of specific genes but it is a matter of luck, such as the crossing of species. Currently we need new phenotypes to cope with biotic and abiotic stresses, the lack of nutrients, excessive cold or fungal pests among others.

They have not only improved compared to the traditional approach, but also have honed the techniques for the production of new organisms and there have been significant improvements as the use of the techniques of tilling and crispr, which represent a new paradigm even in the field of legislation. An example is the Agaricus bisporus mushrooms genetically modified organisms with the system CRISPR-Cas9 to prevent to turn brown, which can be marketed without regulation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Although The approach more known socially of agro-biotechnology is the genetic modification of plants for consumption, this term in reality involves much more, and can be both an opportunity to search for drugs as a source of new fuels. An example of this is the European consortium Engicoin, in which microbiological factories researchers can fix CO2 to give place to other usable products such as acetone or bio-plastic.

 

In what consists the TILLING technique? 

The technique TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions in Genomes) is based on use the mutagen ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) to induce mutations that introduce new SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in the genome of each plant under its effect. This technique allows us to detect where there have been mutations, so we can know in which plants has altered the gene of interest to create a new variety. The incorporation of the massive sequencing in the protocols of tilling has made it possible to accelerate their implementation, avoiding bottlenecks generated by traditional approaches.

Tilling (Targeting Induced Local Lesions in Genomes) is a technique of molecular genetics that allows to make an analysis of many individuals for mutations in a particular gene.

 

The potential of medicine through food

The concept of food is evolving, and there is a tendency to seek to promote health, improve the welfare and reduce the risk of disease. One of the new challenges in nutrition are the diet-related chronic diseases as a cause or risk factor, such as obesity, diabetes or cancer. The development of plant varieties that bring benefits to these patients and their consumption, guided by entities that are engaged in NUTRIGENETICS as Alimentomica (technology-based company of the University of the Balearic Islands) and DR HEALTHCARE, could have a very positive effect on its epidemiology.

Alimentomica specifically focuses on research and development of new components, technologies or practices to improve the food and health of people, transforming scientific and technological advances in products or ingredients to the scope of society.

For its part, DR HEALTHCARE is a biomedical company that develops functional enzymes to counteract the effects of one of the most widespread syndromes in human health: the deficit in the DAO enzyme that causes intolerance to histamine (inflammatory molecule). Among the diseases that prevent their compounds are migraines, affecting more than 15% of the world population (about 1050 million people), fibromyalgia, psoriasis and TDH.
we are exposed to a wide variety of food, that might not be as beneficial for all (Unsplash)

 

What is the problem in Europe on the transgenic and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

But if the agro-biotechnology and genetically modified crops offer results as good as the experts commented in this the forum of agrobiotechnology, why in Europe this type of crops have not materialized?

According to Graham Brookes, the response can be divided into two quite different problems:

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  • European regulation in this regard is not conducive to the development of this technology
  • In the European population, during more than 20 years, has been extended and established a bad press and disinformation campaigns (now called fake news) on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which has had a negative impact on the view that citizens have in this respect and makes it even more difficult that could be a good expansion of this sector in the European territory.

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In order to solve this problem, it is important not only to develop interesting products that can reach the market, but it is necessary to communicate the positive evidence that supports the agrobiotechnology to reverse the damage produced in public opinion in recent years.

But why still today continues to maintain this situation? What have been the main centers that have closed the doors in Europe to GM crops?

We must respond to these questions, leave a comment with your opinion and let this situation is clarified

 

 

Image credits: Africa Studio, LALS STOCK, nd3000, Sergey Nivens / shutterstock.com

Bibliography

Brookes and Barfoot (2016)

Emily Waltz, Nature (2016) 532

Kumar, A.P.K., McKeown, P.C., Boualem, A. et al. Mol Breeding (2017) 37: 14.

Gewin V. PLoS Biol (2003)

Cong B, Barrero LS, Tanksley SD. Nature Genetics (2008)

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