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Biotechnology of Agriculture

What is biotechnology and why is it being used in our food supply?

Agricultural biotechnology is really a collection of scientific techniques, including genetic engineering, used to improve plants, animals and microorganisms. Throughout history societies have been concerned with having a safe and abundant food supply. Our ancestors learned to improve their crops and livestock by breeding them to be hardier and provide more food. As a result, most of our crops and farm animals now look and taste different than they did centuries ago. Today, crops and livestock can be modified even more precisely through biotechnology.

What is genetic engineering?

All living things - including the fruits, vegetables and meat that we eat - contain genes that provide the instructions that tell the cells how to function. That information and many important traits are passed from generation to generation through genes, which are made of a large molecule called DNA, shaped much like a spiral staircase or "double helix." Every living thing contains DNA. Scientists do genetic engineering by cutting and moving snippets of DNA from one plant, animal or microbe to another in a process called gene splicing. Unlike traditional crossbreeding techniques that simultaneously introduce many genes (including unwanted genes), genetic engineering uses just the gene for a specific desirable trait.

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