Food Biotechnology

How Biotech Has Changed What We Eat

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.

Potable Water Testing

Worker gathering water samples at chemical plant. Keith Woods

With so much worldwide suffering from diseases traced to drinking contaminated water, any improvements to potable water testing make the top of 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, so the crops can produce higher concentrations of known nutrients and disease-fighting compounds. An example of this the simple tomato which may be bred to produce higher amounts of lycopene, a compound that has been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels, and lower risk of breast and prostate cancers.

Higher Quality Crops

ombine in field with rows of corn and soya bean plants. Mitch Kezar

Agricultural biotechnology research has resulted in the development of many Pathogen-resistant crops, able to fight disease and produce increase yields and/or improved quality. While some quality enhancements are purely cosmetic, others that increase yields could result in 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

Plastic wraps that prevent food from spoiling inhibit the growth of bacteria and some are even edible! 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 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 the fatty acids we extract from them are better for our health. Plants have been altered to produce more linoleic acid, the beneficial fatty acid found in fish. In others, genetic modifications have been done to reduce the saturated fatty acids they produce. One example of a plant with altered gene expression to improve the quality of the product is the 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.