5 Ways Food Biotechnology Has Changed Our World

Developments in food biotechnology have exerted an impact on how food is produced, packaged, tested, and preserved. Many of the changes have meant indisputable enhancements for our safety and our health, while others are more controversial. While some advances, such as the use of plastic wraps, may seem like simple advances in the world of food production and consumption, others appear to be a lot more technological. Below is a break down of five biotechnology advances that are changing our world on a daily basis.

Potable Water Testing

Worker gathering water samples at chemical plant
Keith Woods

It is hard for those living in first-world countries to image that there are entire nations (primarily in Africa) where clean water is hard to come by. Either no clean water is available or women have to walk for miles with clay jugs on their heads bringing water back to their village, from a neighboring town. With so much worldwide suffering from diseases traced to drinking contaminated water, any improvements to potable water testing top the list. Recombinant gene technology methods are being developed to test water for safe drinking. Cryptosporidium parvum (Crypto), is a water-borne pathogen that produces spores, making it difficult to remove by boiling or chemical treatments. However, Crypto can be detected using bioassays that incorporate monoclonal antibodies.

Increased Nutritional Value

Hands holding bunch of tomatoes
Dougal Waters

Certain food crops are being altered, using methods that control gene expression. This means that the crops can produce higher concentrations of known nutrients and disease-fighting compounds, both of which are hugely important. An example of this method is the simple tomato which can be bred to produce higher amounts of lycopene, a compound that has been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels ​and has been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancers.

Higher Quality Crops

Mitch Kezar

Agricultural biotechnology research has resulted in the development of many Pathogen-resistant crops able to fight disease and produce increased yields and/or produce crops offering improved quality. While some quality enhancements are purely cosmetic there are others that increase yields which could result in providing more food for impoverished nations. Since the introduction of the controversial transgenic BT-corn, a multitude of new genetically altered crops has been developed for resisting disease caused by fungi, molds, and insects. Some of the means of engineering resistance include cloning of genes for recombinant or pathogen-related proteins into plants, or for antisense and siRNAs that block pathogenesis.

Packaging to Reduce Spoilage

Fresh Breads In Polythenes
Sujata Jana/EyeEm/Getty Images

Plastic wraps that prevent food from spoiling inhibit the growth of bacteria. Natural antibiotic substances derived from sources such as cloves, oregano, thyme, and paprika have been combined with controlled-release biodegradable polymers (smart polymers) to create plastics that can prevent damaging biofilm formation.

Reduced Health Risk

Variety of 10 different edible oils
Maximilian Stock Ltd

Some plants that are used to produce vegetable oils are being genetically modified so that the fatty acids that are extracted from them are better for our health. Plants have been altered to produce more linoleic acid which is the beneficial fatty acid found in fish and so admired as an antioxidant. In others, genetic modifications have been made to reduce the saturated fatty acids they produce, which can clog the arteries. One example of a plant with altered gene expression ​used to improve the quality of the product is the (once lowly) soybean that has been developed to produce more stearic acid, thus improving the heat stability of the oil, to match the properties of trans-hydrogenated fatty acids. With this alteration, less hydrogenated oils can be utilized for the same traditional purposes as hydrogenated oils.