Dr Abu Siddiqui
According to the United Nations the world's population is expected to grow another 50 percent by 2050 which means more mouths to feed. How will the world feed all these people? No country feels this pressure as much as Bangladesh, being the most densely populated country in the world.
The arable land that the people of Bangladesh inherited is fixed and has many flaw; the usable land mass is also reducing every year due to urbanization of the growing population. In addition to the growing population, global warming, natural disasters, salinity, and blockages of natural water supplies have severely affected the agriculture. This has twisted a once fertile land into a marshy wasteland and has had a large impact on productivity.
Improvements in agricultural yields will be key in the upcoming years to meet the rising demands. Bangladesh has two choices to make, it can either secure more land for agricultural purposes, or it can increase the food output on land that is now used for farming. More and more experts believe that a biotechnological or transgenic plant will play an important role to resolve the problem.
Transgenic plants are plants that have genes coming from a different plant species. Such genes can be transferred through genetic engineering at the laboratory or ordinary hybridization by cross-pollination of plants. Farmers and plant breeders have been working for centuries to improve the crops. Traditional breeding methods include selecting and sowing the seeds from plants with beneficial characteristics, such as higher yield, better nutrition and resistance to disease. On the contrary plant created through biotechnology allows breeders to select genes that produce beneficial traits and move them from one plant to another. The process is far more precise, selective and less time consuming.
Biotech crops can make farming more profitable by increasing crop quality and may in some cases increase yields. This allows farmers to spend less of their time managing their crops and more time on other profitable activities. It can provide enhanced quality traits such as increased levels of beta-carotene in rice to aid in reducing vitamin A deficiencies and improved oil compositions in canola, soybean, and corn. Crops with the ability to grow in salty soils or better withstand drought conditions are also in the works. The five principal transgenic crops grown are soybean, corn/maize, cotton, canola/rapeseed, and potatoes. The proportion of transgenic crops grown in industrial countries was higher compared to the developing countries. The largest increase in transgenic crops occurred in the USA followed by Argentina and Canada. Countries such as China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria have invested heavily in gene technology, with a direction toward achieving food security and improve income generation. This choice has greatly influenced emerging economies.
Bangladesh has also made remarkable achievements in agriculture and transformed from a country of chronic food shortages to one of food self-sufficiency. However, the country is still facing food-security challenges. Thirty percent of the country is situated in the coastal zone with an area from the shore of 37 to 195 km. The land in the coastal zone is mainly use for agriculture, fishing, shrimp culture, salt production, forestry, ship breaking, and other settlement needs. Unfortunately, the costal zone is vulnerable to multiple threats such as cyclones, storm surges, floods, tsunamis, salinity, erosion, and above all climate change. Due to scarcity of drinking water, land erosion, the high groundwater arsenic content, waterlogging, water and soil salinity and various forms of pollution the government of Bangladesh has identified the zone as an "agro-ecologically disadvantaged region". However, this region can be turned into a major contributor to the national economy by adapting new technologies with already established plant life.
To achieve this goal a new transgenic plant will be generated using state-of-the-art genetic engineering techniques. This plant will be capable of growing in the halophytic environment in the coastal zone and produce edible olive oil.
The new transgenic plant will be named KOLIVE, which is a combination of Keora and Olive plants. The oil producing gene from the olive plant (Olea europaea belongs to Oleaceae family) will be carefully transferred into the keora plant (Sonneratia apatela Buch.-Ham. belongs to Sonneratiaceae family) and generate the new Kolive plant. The reasons for selecting the keora plant are: very similar to the olive plant, has oil producing mechanism and grows abundantly throughout the coastal region and tidal forests.
Pros of transgenic plant are: produce alternative edible oil similar to olive oil, honey, wood, shelter for wildlife, jobs, above all act as natural shield to protect the inhabitants from natural disaster.
Cons of transgenic plant is very ambitious and challenging.
Research plans are: 1. unveil genomic sequence of Keora plant (Sonneratia apatela), 2. Determine the oil producing gene of olive plant (Olea europaea), 3. Transfer oil producing gene from olive to keora plant, 4. Create a transgenic plant (Kolive), 5. Grow transgenic plant (Kolive) in the laboratory, 6. Evaluate the fruits for oil production, chemical compositions, and nutritional value, and 7. Grow as a pilot project in the coastal region.
Dr Abu Siddiqui is a scientist, currently working as the senior scientist for global research leader Johnson and Johnson Co.