Production of novel substances in crop plants


Biotechnology is being applied for novel uses other than food. For example, oilseed can be modified to produce fatty acids for detergents, substitute fuels and petrochemicals. Potatoes, tomatoes, rice tobacco, lettuce, safflowers, and other plants have been genetically engineered to produce insulin and certain vaccines. If future clinical trials prove successful, the advantages of edible vaccines would be enormous, especially for developing countries. The transgenic plants may be grown locally and cheaply. Homegrown vaccines would also avoid logistical and economic problems posed by having to transport traditional preparations over long distances and keeping them cold while in transit. And since they are edible, they will not need syringes, which are not only an additional expense in the traditional vaccine preparations but also a source of infections if contaminated.[28] In the case of insulin grown in transgenic plants, it is well-established that the gastrointestinal system breaks the protein down therefore this could not currently be administered as an edible protein. However, it might be produced at significantly lower cost than insulin produced in costly bioreactors. For example, Calgary, Canada-based SemBioSys Genetics, Inc. reports that its safflower-produced insulin will reduce unit costs by over 25% or more and approximates a reduction in the capital costs associated with building a commercial-scale insulin manufacturing facility of over $100 million, compared to traditional biomanufacturing facilities.[29]


There is another side to the agricultural biotechnology issue. It includes increased herbicide usage and resultant herbicide resistance, “super weeds,” residues on and in food crops, genetic contamination of non-GM crops which hurt organic and conventional farmers, etc.[30][31]