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What plant biotechnology really means


Published: 06/02/2016

by Arielle Duke

More information on plant biotechnology is available at

Terms like genetic engineering, GMO, and transgenic are widely used, but what do they actually mean?

They're part of modern plant science techniques called plant biotechnology that plant breeders are using to help plants grow better, and produce healthier, more plentiful crops.

Plant breeding has been around for thousands of years. Since the early days of agriculture, people have tried to improve the quality and quantity of the crops they grow, by selecting the crops that had the most desirable traits.

Mother Nature might have created new varieties that are suited to thrive in the wild but that are not necessarily suited for agriculture. Modern plant breeding uses the same principles, but is focused on making varieties suited for agriculture. Now with these modern techniques plant breeders can pinpoint very specific beneficial traits and introduce them efficiently into a plant.

“Genetic engineering or modification means changing the makeup of plant cells by adding, removing or modifying genes in or between plants to make them resistant to certain diseases or pests, more adaptable to extreme climate conditions or to improve the health benefits of a plant,” explains Ian Affleck, managing director of science and regulatory affairs for Plant Biotechnology with CropLife Canada.

These techniques of improving plants are much quicker and more exact than traditional plant breeding, and allow more rapid adaptation to climate changes and consumer demands.

“GMO foods are nutritionally and chemically identical to foods from non-biotech or conventional crops,” says Affleck, adding that a recent landmark study from the University of California-Davis found no impacts from GMOs on the more than 100 billion livestock that have eaten feed from GM crops since 1996.

More information on plant biotechnology is available at

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