Biotechnology and its application to agriculture and horticulture

Code No: TMS115 Price: Rs1400/- Category: Foods & Agriculture: Inputs to the Soil


Biotechnology is broadly defined as any technique that uses live organisms viz. bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, animal cells, plant cells etc. to make or modify a product, to improve plants or animals or to engineer micro-organisms for specific uses. It encompasses genetic engineering, inclusive of enzyme and protein engineering plant and animal tissue culture technology, biosensors for biological monitoring, bioprocess and fermentation technology. Biotechnology is essentially and interdisciplinary are consisting of biochemistry, molecular chemistry, molecular and microbiology, genetics and immunology etc. it is concerned with upgradation of quality and also utilization of livestock and resources for the well being of both animals and plants.

Modern biotechnology holds considerable promise to meet challenges in agricultural production.

It makes use of life sciences, chemical sciences and engineering sciences in achieving and improving the technological applications of the capabilities of the living organism of their derivates to make products of value to man and society. It is used in living systems to develop commercial processes and products which also includes the techniques of Recombinant DNA, gene transfer, embryo manipulation, plant regeneration, cell culture, monoclonal antibodies and bio-processed engineering. These techniques can transform ideas into practical applications, viz, certain crops can be genetically altered to increase their tolerance to certain herbicides. Biotechnology can be used to develop safer vaccines against viral and bacterial diseases. It also offers new ideas and techniques applicable to agriculture and also develops a better understanding of living systems of our environment and ourselves. It has a tremendous potential fir improving crop production, animal agriculture and bio-processing.

New approaches in biotechnology can develop high yielding and more nutritious crop varieties, improve resistance to disease and also reduce the need for fertilizer and other expensive agricultural chemicals. It could also improve forestry and its products, fibre crops and chemical feedstocks.

Plant biotechnologies an play a key role in the massive production of improved crop varieties (through in vitro tissue culture followed by clonal propagation), as well as in their genetic improvement. They can also help in propagating plant species which contain useful and biologically active substances, eg., food additive, pigment, pharmaceuticals, biopesticides, etc. Organ tissue and cell culture could be more efficient than conventional extraction.

Biotechnology helps to isolate the gene, study its function and regulation, modify the gene and reintroduce it into its natural host of another organism. It help unlocking the secrets of diseases resistance, regulates growth and development or manipulates communication among cells and among other organisms.

It is a comparatively new technique and is used in the field of agriculture and horticulture. This mainly involves manipulation in the genetic code (which includes processes like gene transfer), tissue culture, monoclonal antibody preparation protoplast fusion.

These processes help in increasing yield, producing better quality products both in plants and animals, increasing resistance to pests and herbicides, micro propagation in several crops etc. are some of the advantages of using biotechnological methods.

TIFAC has undertaken Techno-market studies in the past on the biotechnology applications in the fields of Horticulture and Floriculture.

This study is based on intensive desk studies and field survey concerning scanning of the available literature on the subject from diverse sources viz libraries, Agricultural Research Institute, Universities etc.



Taking into consideration the studies already conducted by TIFAC, the prime objectives of the survey are:-

- Identification of technology areas for further development
- Identification of optimum technologies for the country in selected areas.
- Development of implementation action plan including identification of agencies.
- Development of technology assessment capabilities in the country.

This update study has aimed at making an objective assessment of the present update studies for filing the gaps and updating the same.


1. Relationship and importance of the specific topic to the broad area to which it belongs.

2. The current status of the technology in the world and in the country. Market (domestic and export) sizes and their potentials.

3. Assessment of the technology, resource parameters such as energy, raw materials, infrastructure and manpower etc. to arrive at preferred technology options available to the country.

4. Short term and long term economic aspects of preferred options alongwith their feasibility.

5. Impact of the preferred options by itself and its spin offs.
6. Recommendations

a) For implementation of preferred technology options, identify, critical inputs such as raw material, capital goods and human resources required and their availability, investments required to commercialize, and benefits/ returns expected. Maximum possible quantification is required.

b) For Research and development / technology development identify the requirements of inputs and expected benefits.

7. Action plan implementation of recommendations alongwith identification of
a) List of available technologies for Indian industry and
b) The agencies / groups / individuals for implementation

8. Expected impact of recommendations, if implemented.


The desk study was largely based on secondary data obtained through scanning of available literature on the subject from various libraried and institutes. Various magazines, newspapers, journals etc. were consulted. Interviews and group discussions with knowledgeable people in this field was conducted to know the recent status of technology in India and abroad. The relevant data from various sources has been collected and the updated report has been compiled with due consideration to the studies already carried out and the thrust areas identified in the earlier studies. The list of various published sources of information that have been referred to in the text and made use of in developing the contents of this report have been listed in Annexure -1. a bibliography of connected literature on the subject is given in Annexure – II.

The field study consisted of visiting research laboratories like IARI, CBT, MEF etc. to know the various procedures followed to put the various theories of biotechnology to practical use. Efforts were made to analyse the status of various biotechnological techniques, which have recently come into commercial application or are in pilot stage. Field study also consisted of writing letters to the concerned people who are practically using biotechnological processes or are involved in development of new technologies. Studies were done to know the economic viability of the technologies used abroad when applied to the Indian context. The economic aspects to the extent possible have also been incorporated. The organizations contacted for obtaining the relevant information of the subjects is given in Annexure –III.


The main observations and findings of the study are:

- Use of biotechnology in agricultural products, except in case of biofetilizers & biogas generation, is in its infancy stage.
- Many of the biotechnological investigation under intrinsic investigations and being pursued vigorously in various institutes have yielded encouraging results on laboratory scale. These have, however, to be tested at the field level.

The aim of agricultural and plant biotechnologies are:
- rapid multiplication of useful micro-organisms,
- micro propagation of plants,
- production of diagnostic tools for the identification of plant disease and detection of contaminants,
- Introduction of genetic mapping technologies and more efficient systems of plant germplasm preservation,
- Genetically engineer plants – i.e., alter their basic structure which have now new characteristic to improve the efficiency of crop production.
The goal of all the above is to produce more and better crops at lower cost.

The technologies used in agriculture and horticulture are DNA manipulation, Tissue Culture, Gene Transfer, Biofertilisers.

i) Recombinant DNA manipulation technology is the construction of a stretch of DNA sequence consisting of components derived from different sources.

ii) Gene transfer technology is the ability to identify a particular gene – one that encodes a desired trait in an organism.

The gene transfer technology is to locate the relevant gene(s) among the tens of thousands that make up the genome. This is done by reducing the lengths of an organism’s genomic DNA equivalent to one or several genes. These smaller segments can be stored and then cloned to produce a quantity of genetic material for further analysis. Cloned genes are necessary research tools for studies of the structure, function and expression of the genes. They are also used as diagnostic test probes in medicine and agriculture to detect specific diseases.

The transfer of genes from one organism to another is a natural process that creates variation in biological traits. It under lies all attempts to improve agricultural species whether through traditional agricultural breeding or through the techniques of molecular biology. The molecular biological methods of gene transfer alleviate the process to manipulated one gene at a time. They can also control the way in which these genes express themselves in the new variety of plant and animal. This can shorten the time required to develop new varieties and give greater precision. This can also be used to exchange genes.

III) Tissue Culture is the science of cultivating animal/ plant tissue in a prepared medium. Technologies based on this can be harnessed to achieve crop improvement objectives.

The application of tissue culture are in the filed of multiplying bamboos, mass multiplication, micro propagation etc.

- Multiplication of bamboos. In general, it takes a long period to flower in bamboos. It has been reported that bamboos can be induced to flower in tissue culture in relatively lesser time. This opens up vast possibilities of selective breeding of improved bamboo varieties and thus replacing the vegetative propagation by speed propagation.

- Mass multiplication is carried out with a number of ornamental and field crops which have shown that the use of this fully mechanized procedure of multiplication, distribution and transfer is suited to commercial micropropagation.

- Micropropagation has been carried out in several crop which include, potato, sweet potato, yams, garlic, lime, banana, pineapple and papaya; spices including ginger, small cardamom, turmeric, black pepper and several aromatic and medicinal plants such as sarpgandha and antamul. Elite genotypes of banana, papaya, coconut, small cardamom and oil palm have been multiplied on a commercial scale by private seed companies. Micropropagation of ornamental plants such as gladioli, orchids and bougainvillea which have tremendous export value has been achieved.

Tissue culture technology is the most disseminated. These techniques have been known in India since the thirties. Indian Scientists are well recognized internationally for the significant contribution they have made in the development in this field.

Among the tissue culture techniques, plant-propagation is the only area of biotechnology commercially exploited in India. Massive multiplication of plants have been conducted by private companies since the middle sixties. The recent Indian economical policies have favoured the development of agro—industries, including biotechnological companies. Since 1992, emerging private companies have successfully multiplied hundreds of thousands of ornamental plants for both the local and international markets.

iii) Biofertilisers

Certain micro-organisms and minute plants which can absorb gaseous nitrogen and phosphorous directly from the atmosphere and make it available to the plants can be identified, multiplied in the laboratories and introduced into the root zone of crop plants to supply nitrogen and phosphorous. Materials containing such organisms are called biofertilisers.

Some of the biofertiliser are Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azispir illiumm Blue-green algae, Azolla etc.


In world scenario immunization of seeds and predators and production of pharmaceuticals are covered in the countries like America,China, Philippines, Madagascar, Australia.

Successful immunization of cucumber seedlings against the Anthracnose fungus have been achieved. And the acquired immunity can be extended to predators as well.

Approximately 119 pure chemical substance extracted from higher plants were used in medicine throughout the world. The market potential for herbal drugs in the Western world could range from Rs. 186.20 billion in the next ten years to Rs. 1,786 billion by the year 2000 if the AIDS epidemic continued unchecked. Utilization of plant biotechnologies for the production of pharmaceuticals, however, faced certain problems like rare occurrences of highly productive cell lines, difficulty in including the cells to produce the desired compound, vulnerability of slow- growing tissue to bacterial and fungal infections, laborious excretion between different genes and general shuffling of chromosomes. In Philippines, intensive work has been done on identification of medicinal plants where new medicines processing factory has been setup based on more than 300 identified medicinal plants. Similarly nearly 40, 000 different kinds of traditional plant drugs have been produced in 57 factories. Commercial usefulness of medicinal plants can be illustrated by Catharanthus roseus which has been widely grown on commercial scale in Madagascar and is even exported. Many new products like human and veterinary vaccines, chemicals and pharmaceuticals have been extensively developed in Australia.

Hairy root culture, derived from callus tissue, infected by Agrobacterium rhizogenes, gives a natural defence against infection and considerable work has been done on this.

Application of biotechnology in crop improvement is noteworthy. The example of which are:

- improved malting quality of barley by gene transfer, Finland;
- insect resistant plant seeds by transgenesis, California;
- mass test tube reproduction of genetically improved banana plants, St.Paulo;
- genetic engineering of cut flowers (pink to white chrysanthemum), Netherlands;
- herbicide resistant crop (engineered plants) to resist the toxic effect of weed killer.
Indian scenario is also studded with examples of several ongoing biotechnology research projects viz., genetic changes in the Indian mustard, genetic diversity in some indica cultivators, production of rice hybrid tolerant to saline conditions using tissue culture, wide hybridization and use of pollen as a system for screening disease resistance, development of chickpea strains with improved acronomic traits etc. Commercial application of the results however has yet to wait till such time the elaborate fields tests are undertaken, results calibrated and processes standardized.

Setting up of national Gene Banks with the objective of conserving species of medicinal and aromatic plants under endangered/threatened categories is an important developed.

Some of the achievements include the procedures for isolation of BT plasmid DNA, preparation of plasmid DNA library, probing of ICP gene and purification of toxic crystal protein from Bacillus cultures which have been standardized. </p>


The technologies suitable in the Indian context have been discussed in the report. These are:-

i) Recombinant DNA manipulation technology is the construction of a strech of DNA sequence consisting of components derived from different sources.

ii) Gene transfer technology is the ability to identify a particular gene- one that encodes a desired trait in an organism.

iii) Tissue Culture is the science of cultivating animal/ plant tissue in a prepared medium. Technologies based on this can be harnessed to achieve crop improvement objectives.

The application of tissue culture are in the filed of multiplying bamboos, mass multiplication, micropropagation etc.

iv) Biofertilisers: Certain micro-organisms and minute plants which can absorb gaseous nitrogen and phosphorous directly from the atmosphere and make it available to the plants can be identified, multiplied in the laboratories and introduced into the root zone of crop plants to supply sitrogen and phosphorous. Materials containing such organisms are called biofertilisers.

Some of the biofertlisers are Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azispirillium, Blue-green algae, Azolla etc.


- Areas related medicines and health, chemical industry, mineral beneficiation and extractive metallurgy and to no less extent the agriculture, forestry, horticulture, aquaculture, poultry and food industry together with environment protection pursuit will derive the benefits of biotechnology.

- R&D organizations and industrial establishments involved in the development, production and marketing of activities/ products relating to glucose, poultry, hormones, pharmaceuticals, sugar , agriculture, biomedical, horticulture, environment and acquaculture as also administrative / planning departments both in private and government sectors will be restlessly busy with the applied aspects of the various options that the biotechnology will unfold near future.

- Lack of awareness, incentive, trained manpower and realization by the potential users of the advantage of biotechnology options over conventional processing routes and more so the absence of case histories developed on promotional basis are some of the main deterrents in adaptability of biotechnology.


The thrust areas of research and development of techniques include:

- Production of micro-insecticides, applications of the fungal insecticides, testing and evaluation in appropriate socio-economic, situations, formulation and application methods for various agro-systems, catabolic systems inherent in microbial groups specifically in the context of metabolism of environmentally important chemicals, metabolic diversity exhibited by micro organisms when oxygen is not available, inoculation for bio-contained systems, biotransformation of contaminants in multiple phase system.


a) Since many of the biotechnology principles are at an experimental level but have great potential for increasing production in agriculture and allied sector, there is pressing need for the testing the successful techniques in the laboratories for application on a larger scale to establish their applicability at the commercial level.

b) Techno-Economic Feasibility studies of specific proposals have to be taken up.

c) Pilot projects in selected thrust areas needed to be tested.

d) There is further scope for appropriate R&D support, trained manpower, and education of farmers. Entrepreneurs in the use of technology.

e) There is need for trained manpower base. Biotechnology manpower development has to be regarded as a sub-system of the Science & Technology manpower system and;

f) In order to stimulate academic research an innovation oriented programme aiming at the protection and stimulation of fundamental research in biotechnological disciplines, the creation of an infrastructure fit to bridge the gap between the scientific community and industry.