Biology Issue Report on GM Foods

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A Level Biology – Unit 3 Issue Report

Food Shortage

March 2012

Course Code: AN03 Biology A Level 2009

Unit 3 - 6BIO3


Problem – Producing Enough Food for the World’s Growing Population

Food shortages are not a new problem but they have become more widespread in recent years.  Food riots took place in Haiti in 2008 following demonstrations over the rising price of food and India suffered drought due to the failure of monsoons in 2009 (1).  Famine is a very real issue right now in Africa with the Sahel region of West Africa facing a “worsening food crisis (2)”.  In the Horn of Africa (see fig 1) in 2011 tens of thousands of people died (estimates range between 50,000 and 100,000) from famine following a drought said to be the worst in 60 years (3).  

Climate change is one of the reasons behind the drought that triggered East Africa’s 2011 famine.  As climate change is unlikely to be reversed in the near future, reduced rainfalls are expected to continue and a solution is needed to combat the diminished growth of crops and yield in arid, populated areas.  The world population is nearly 7 billion at the moment and the United Nations estimates it will reach 9.3 billion by the middle of the century (4).  The majority of the increase is expected to be in developing countries.  The UN also states that food production must double by 2050 to meet the demand of the world’s growing population (5).  These two sets of figures do not necessarily tally but the current population is not currently receiving enough food and rising population is not the only factor in food demand.

In addition to population growth and reduced rainfall, soil fertility can be depleted by a lack of access to fertiliser and bad farming practices which reduces the area suitable for crops and pasture.


Genetic Modification of Crops – A Biological Solution

One solution in combatting food shortages and ensuring healthy yield is ensuring that crops are chosen for planting which are able to grow with a minimal amount of water.  In this way, maximum efficiency is gained from the investment (area, water, time etc) in the crop and it is more likely to withstand times of drought.

Genetic modification of crop plants is one way in which plants can be grown which need less water.  This is currently a focus for seed producing companies as an estimated 69-70% of the world’s fresh water is used for irrigation (6 & 7).  Drought resistant versions of maize (corn), wheat and sugar cane are currently under development.

Biofuel production is competing with food production for farming land.  At the University of Liverpool, biologists are sequencing the genome of the Madagascan Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi plant to find out how it functions at night, when it takes in most of its carbon dioxide requirement.  According to the Reseach Intelligence page on the University’s website this makes it “ten times more water-efficient than major food crops like wheat” (8).  The biologists hope to use the plants genetic code to make biofuel crops able to grow in harsh environments, leaving fertile farmland for crops.  

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Monsanto is a Fortune 500 biotechnology company with a goal to double yields in our core crops by 2030 using advanced plant breeding and biotechnology (9).  In December 2011 the United States Department of Agriculture approved Monsanto’s drought-resistant variety of corn, MON 87460, which was developed using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and has the gene for Bacillus subtilis cold shock protein B (CspB) inserted into its genome.  CspB is a protein which helps bacteria adapt to environmental stresses.  

“CspB is known to bind and unfold secondary RNA structures that compromise the ability of the cell to translate those RNA molecules, ...

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**** Though demonstrating a good understanding of A level biology this is not a balanced account.