The era of biotechnology began when researchers at Stanford University and the U.C. San Francisco successfully recombined the ends of bacterial genetic material after splicing foreign genetic material in between. This process is referred to by the press as genetic engineering. Thus began a series of new developments:
Plant breeding has provided Americans with more than 250 fruits, vegetables, and herbs we regularly enjoy. Many people are surprised to learn that biotechnology has been used for centuries to produce, improve, and preserve food products, such as cheese, wine, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
|New food||Crossbreed from:|
|tangelos||orange and tangerine|
|white and yellow sweet corn||field corn|
|crunchy carrot||less crunchy carrot|
|yellow tomato||red tomato|
|broccoflower||broccoli and cauliflower|
|honeyloupe||cantaloupe and honeydew melon|
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Humans have been selecting, sowing, and harvesting seeds to produce food products over thousands of centuries. Breeders crossed crop plants to develop desirable traits, such as better taste, richer color, hardier fruits, or tolerance to certain diseases, in certain plants.
Traditional breeding typically takes 10 to 12 years because of the back-crossing that has to be done when extensive changes occur after two whole plants are crossed. However, modern crop breeders can use biotechnology to select specific genetic traits from any plant and move it into the genetic code of another plant. Biotechnology has added specificity and precision that traditional breeding cannot offer.
As an example, look at the enzyme rennet which is used to make cheese. Before biotechnology, rennet came from the lining of calves stomachs. Biotechnology enabled researchers to remove the specific gene that produces rennet and reproduce it in bacteria, enabling the production of rennet by fermentation. Today, nearly 50% of rennet is produced from this fermentation process, eliminating much of the need for extracts from calves stomachs.
Some other benefits of biotechnology include:
Foods developed through biotechnology will be subject to the same regulatory requirements the FDA uses to maintain the safety of all foods. In May 1992, the FDA issued specific guidelines for plant-based genetically-modified foods. These guidelines are as follows:
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