The problem with plant microbial infestation also leads to the idea of genetic alteration of plants to prevent diseases of the crops and consequently, of humans who are the targeted consumers of such crops. This is done by inserting genes that could provide the plants with immunity to some pathogens. To cite an example, potatoes could receive genes from different sources such as chicken Giant Silk Moth and a virus; and tomatoes from a virus, to increase their resistance to diseases (Transgenic Crops, 2000).
Plants like tobacco, corn, potato, lettuce, squash, melon and petunias have already bean introduced with genes that could break down the cell walls of certain fungi, preventing the possible diseases it could cause. Rust, mildew and wilts have been problems encountered by plant growers in the past and biotechnology provided a means to make such diseases a mere part of history (Villano, n. d. ). But still, more discoveries are needed to be made in terms of providing plants with resistance to diseases.
A lot of constructs are necessary to provide plants with resistance to a lot of diseases, since one type of gene could only protect one plant from one type of disease (Villano, n. d. ). Aside from providing plants with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance and disease resistance, plants are also genetically altered to improve their adaption to environmental changes to improve their product quality and yield.
Some plants are now being altered to improve their tolerance to cold temperature and decreased water availability especially in drought season; increased shelf life; better taste and appearance; improved nutritional value and easier harvesting methods (Villano, n. d. ) Potatoes receive genes from bacteria to improve their resistance to cold weather and from Wax moth to increase their resistance to bruises from mishandling. Similarly, corn receives genes from bacteria to improve their habitat tolerance while the tomatoes’ Flounder gene reduces damage from freezing.
The alteration in rice, however, is different. Rice is genetically altered to receive from beans or peas to create more storage cells for protein. (Transgenic Crops, 2000). The application of transgenic plants can be measured by how it is recognized globally. In terms global area, it is said that soybeans, corn, cotton and canola are the most widely planted genetically-altered plants (Figure 2). Transgenic crop production area in different countries increased from 2000 to 2005 as shown in Table 1. From 2000 to 2005, there are more than 50% increase in production area in the countries.
A. Pharmacy 1. Development of Drugs Figure 3 shows the distribution of how drug manufacturers see the current and future of the use of transgenics in the pharmaceutical industry. Still, more than a quarter of the respondents do not see any future in the use of transgenics in drug manufacturing. The rest of the manufacturers are optimistic in the role of transgenics in the pharmaceutical industry believing that transgenics are either already a viable alternative to the present manufacturing method of drugs or will more likely available in the near future (McCook, 2005).
According to Roger Beachy, President of Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, “Plants are the most efficient producers of proteins on earth (Biotechnology Industry Organization, 2006). ” In pharmacy, proteins in plants can be altered to become therapeutic agents for specific illnessesic illnesses. This means that plants can now be considered as a future possibility in treating various illnesses, and this, with better control and thus better effectiveness of the resultant drugs. This is done by making plants the producers of the therapeutic proteins themselves.
This could also allow for a cheaper alternative for drug production. The specific proteins produced by plants could then be extracted, refined and used in the production of pharmaceuticals. Systems on drug production using plants are now being started. Potatoes, corn, tobacco, rice, alfalfa, barley, safflower, soy and duckweed are already being explored by scientists for the possibility of genetic alteration in order to produce the necessary proteins which should be equivalent in activity compared to those produced in traditional drug manufacturing systems (Biotechnology Industry Association, 2006).
Companies are now trying to invest on plant-made pharmaceuticals for possible treatments for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis, obesity, geriatric and child diarrhea, iron deficiency, kidney disease, tooth decay, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, Hepatitis C, HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord injuries and many others (Biotechnology, Industry Association, 2006). 2. Development of Vaccines
The developments in genetic engineering make possible the delivery of vaccines more convenient especially to children. Plant-based vaccines are now being studied because of their possible general availability and adaptation to both tropical and subtropical environments. Among the plants, bananas are being studied as a possible vehicle. Plant-based vaccines have the potential of gaining access to a wider population to help prevent diseases such as cholera, hepatitis B and diarrhea among others (Future Transgenic Products, 2004).