FARMING SERIES: CLEAN GENE (Part 1)

This is a part of the “Urban Farming: Self Sustenance and Growing your own Food” series.

I’ve always been fascinated by my grandmother’s summer and winter gardens in the terrace of her house where I visited everyday as a child.

Plums that have been genetically engineered to...
Plums that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the plum pox virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like I have pointed it out in my previous articles in this series how imperative it is to have control over what you eat and the best way is to be able to grow some of what you want to consume on a daily basis. Urban farming can help one utilize small spaces and  employ a variety of methods to grow some of the food we consume (or even some medicinal plants/ herbs and spices)by methods like aeroponics /hydroponics, organic farming, lab based micropropagation techniques etc (Here was the article )

Seed germinating in our biotech lab as a part of our course-work
Seed germinating in our biotech lab as a part of our course-work

According to Wikipedia, urban farming can help you control the quality of what you eat, and you can drastically reduce the dependence on chemicals used in foods. The basic idea was of a supplementary food production system that was independent of the rural farming operation.

This will aid in more production, more income (to certain sections of the society), and develop a food supply network that is recession proof and can also be a source of employment to the urban youth and help in sustaining fast growing populations in the cities.

Basically, it aims at generating fresh food and also biomass (that can be used as a source of green energy), cut down transportation costs, utilize spaces by employing vertical farming methods.

I remember a scene from the movie, “ The Great Escape” where the British officers had come up with an interesting way to dispose off the dirt generated from their secret tunneling operations. Tilling the land in the prisoner-of-war camp to create seed beds was one simple way of getting rid of the dirt from the tunnels. During a routine inspection by the Germans, they were asked about the sudden increase in activity around the camp, and “digging the earth” was the most surprising of them. On being asked why they were tilling the land like peasants,“You can’t eat flowers.” was the  Group Captain’s reply. In a way, it also helped them supplement the resources they were being supplied from the other world. On a broader level,  taking up a bit of farming can really save you in a tight spot and extricate you from certain difficulties THAT MAY BE faced in real life.

(Pic source: theescapeline.blogspot.com)

Since  I live in the Gangetic belt and our economy is mainly agrarian, we get a lot of fresh stuff everyday and it’s important that we buy from local growers to sustain the economy. But then again, you might want to grow a few things at home –like spices, herbs, medicinal plants and you can control what goes into your system to some extent.

Since urban farming does not require a lot of land or investment or capital, otherwise there would be a huge competition for land with the real estate developers, some people have devised various methods that make use of small urban spaces like terraces and balconies to grow organic food.

Picking unripe mangoes
Picking unripe mangoes

I have used the term “organic farming” a few times in this post. That’s because it’s the only way to grow safe food. By safe, I also mean food that is not environmentally damaging. Now, I know a lot of people’s concerns about genetically modified plants (GM crops) and I also wrote in a previous post how genetic engineering (here’s the link to the post) is a way to create more food for an ever-increasing world population.

Now lets take a brief look at GM crops. They are created mainly created for:

1)Human consumption: Keeping in mind the places where malnourishment and diseases due to vitamin deficiencies are prevalent, scientists have developed the golden rice (containing Vitamin A) by integrating genes that code for enzymes required for beta carotene (precursor of Vitamin A) biosynthetic pathway.

2)Animal Feed: Crops to feed livestock that are eventually sold off as meat or for eggs or milk.

3)Molecular Farming: growing GM crops for non food usage like generating bio-pharmaceuticals that might be difficult to produce by any other method, biodegradable polymers/plastics and enzymes used for industries, biofuels etc etc

(Examples include Monsanto’s attempts to create potatoes that contain a lot of starch and to reduce the production cost of ethanol. Agracetus producing a polyester PHB from genetically modified cotton plants. Du Pont’s bio-plastic “Sarona” and Royal Dutch’s modified lignin from transgenic eucalyptus.)

4)Research: Aids in scientific study.

Since there is a wide spread resentment due to the use of transgenic plants for food, The Clean Gene technology was created that aims at eliminating some of the causes that cause the public disapproval towards the adoption of these GMOs. This technique involves the removal of the selectable marker gene that usually confers antibiotic and herbicide resistance that are used to identify transgenics.

SO WHY ARE SELECTABLE MARKERS HARMFUL?

How can they be eliminated?

Now, I better get to the basics of all this in my next post and give you a clear idea of the entire process of creating a genetically modified plant  and the elimination of unwanted and harmful selectable marker genes. Stay tuned for Part 2 (Thursday, 27.06.13 )

You may also like:

Self Reliance via Growing your own Food

Africa: A Case Study

Tropical Fruits and the City

Urban Farming and Healthy Living 

©The Idea Bucket, 2013

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5 Comments

  1. this is so interesting. I usually try to grow my own tomatoes in pots on the patio but that is really about it. what do you think about those “towers”? is that a practical thing for a parttime hobby gardener like me?

  2. I really appreciate this post. I’ve surrendered to the truth that mine is no green thumb (more like black), and buy from organic co-ops, farmers’ markets, and – with discretion – the health food stores. Thanks for the like on my apothecary.

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