Enhancing Food Supply Through Genetic Engineering

Project and Seminar Material for Plant Science

Enhancing Food Supply Through Genetic Engineering


Great progress has been made over the past decades with respect to the application of genetic engineering to increase food supply and to generate nutritionally improved food crops. The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of public controversy. Genetically engineered crops could contribute to food production increase and higher food availability. They also impact on food quality and nutrient composition. This work discusses the challenges of food insecurity and pointed out their consequences on individual and national development. It also presented how agricultural biotechnology could be used to advance the course of attaining food security. Crops such as soybean, maize, rice, tomato, cotton, potato, papaya, have been bio-engineered for crop improvement through weed control, insect resistance, disease resistance, gene tagging, gene mapping. Genetic engineering plays an important role in food production in developing countries by increased production, improved harvesting, availability of better raw material, improved nutritional values, and reduced dependence on agrochemicals. GM crops alone will not solve the hunger problem, but they can be an important component in a broader food security strategy.

Chapter One


1.1 An overview

Genetic engineering of food is the science which involves deliberate modification of the genetic material of plants. It is an old agricultural practice carried on by farmers since early historical time, but recently it has been improved by technology. Many foods consumed today are either genetically modified (GM) whole foods, or certain ingredients from gene modification technology (Adesida, 2004).

Plant genetic engineering involves the use of microbes or biological substances to perform specific processes in plants for the benefit of mankind. Many food plants have been genetically modified for various purposes (Allen, 1999). Food crops that are being produced or modified by genetic engineering techniques are known by various names in literature. Such names include genetically engineered plants, bio-engineered plants, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), genetically modified crops (GM crops) or biotech plants (Liu, 1999; Wilkinson, 1997).

Fig 1. Illustration showing how plant genetic engineering is done.

Source: geneticliteracy.com

Food security exits when all people have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. The development and use of GM crops is seen as key to reduce hunger and increase supply of food (Shiva, 2011). GM cops contribute to food production increase and thus improve the availability of food at global and local levels. Genetically engineered crops would make food crops grow higher in yield and more robust to biotic and abiotic stress (Fedorff et al., 2010). This could stabilize and increase food supplies. Crops with new traits can be associated with food safety risks, which have to be accepted and managed case by case. But such risks are not specific to GM crops (European Commission, 2010).

The traditional breeding method has been used for many years, to improve food supply since the first cultivation of crops such as wheat and barley. Genetic engineering offers a way to quickly improve crop characteristics thereby increasing yield to a degree not often possible with traditional methods (Allen, 1999). Genetic engineering is used to introduce herbicide resistance into plants as well as make plants more productive.

1.2 Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering also called genetic modification is the direct manipulation of an organisms genes using biotechnology. It is a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms (Morgan, 2009). Genetic engineering is a process that alters the genetic makeup of an organism by either removing or introducing DNA. Unlike traditional plant breeding, which involves doing multiple crosses and then selecting for the organism with the desired phenotype, genetic engineering takes the gene directly from one organism and insets it in the other (Erwin, 2003).

Crops have been developed that aid food security by increasing yield, nutritional value and tolerance to environmental stresses (Klumper et al., 2014). The DNA can be introduced directly in to the host organism or in to a cell that is then fused or hybridized with the host. This relies on recombinant nucleic acid techniques to form new combinations of heritable genetic material followed by the incorporation of that material either directly through a vector or indirectly through micro-injection, macro-injection or micro-encapsulation (Erwin, 2003).

Plants, animals or organisms that have been changed though genetic engineering are termed Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. If genetic material from another species is added to the host, the resulting organism is called Transgenic. If genetic material from the species or species that can naturally breed with host is used, the resulting organism is called Cisgenic. If genetic engineering is used to remove genetic material from the target organism, the resulting organism is called a Knockout organism (Capechi, 2001). Although there is a scientific concern that currently, available food derived from GM food safety is a leading concern with critics. These concerns have led to the development of regulatory framework which started in 1975 (Yang et al., 2003).

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Food security exists when all people have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. The development and use of GM crops is a key to reduce hunger and increase supply of food. Genetically engineered crops contribute to food production increase and thus improve the availability of food at global and local levels. They would make food crops grow higher in yield and this could stabilize and increase food supplies.

GM has the potential to enhance the quality, nutritional value and variety of food available for human consumption, and to increase the efficiency of food production, food distribution, and waste management. Genetic engineering would also provide raw materials for industrial uses. It would lead to development of new crop varieties that offer increased yields and reduced inputs, and also offer specialized traits that meet end user needs.


The technical capabilities of academic and research institutes should be strengthened in the fields of Biotechnology, food processing, bio-process engineering and food safety through training and exchange programmes for researchers. Findings in the area of biotechnology should be encouraged and consistent.

Government support is necessary for the development of biotechnology as well as gm crop technology in Nigeria. The high cost of food items currently being experienced in this country is unacceptable. Having more GM foods in the market will bring down the cost of food items.

Finally, more efforts should be geared towards educating the populace that gm foods are as safe as the conventional ones in order to encourage massive production.


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