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Uses of Plant Breeding

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Uses of Plant Breeding - Lesson Summary

Plant breeding plays a vital role in meeting the food demand of the increasing world population. While more than 840 million people around the world lack daily meals it was reported that more than 3 billion people are fighting ‘hidden hunger’. ‘Hidden hunger’ refers to a poor diet or malnutrition, that is, a deficiency of essential micronutrients, proteins and vitamins. To overcome this problem and promote public health, initiatives like biofortification were introduced.

Biofortification is selective breeding of crops with higher nutritional value such as proteins, vitamins and minerals. As a result, biofortification results in high-yielding crops fortified with specific nutrients.
Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, used biofortification to develop several fortified fruits and vegetables. Examples include Vitamin A-fortified carrot, spinach and pumpkin Vitamin C-fortified tomatoes, mustard and bitter gourd protein-fortified beans and garden peas and iron- and calcium-fortified spinach. Despite biofortification and several plant-breeding techniques to boost food production, the demand for food was ever increasing. The shift to a meat diet further increased the demand for grains as foodgrains are also used as animal feed.

A cow needs to be fed around 7 to 10 kilograms of corn to get around 1 kilogram of meat from it. For this reason, in addition to biofortified foods, scientists proposed the use of microbes as a food and feed supplement. These single-celled microbes are rich in proteins and are referred to as ‘Single Cell Proteins or SCP’. And so they are cultured to be used as a rich source of protein food. For example, spirulina, a blue-green algae, is cultured for its high protein and mineral content and it is also a source of vitamins, carbohydrates and fats.

It is used as a food supplement for human beings and as a feed supplement for animals. Moreover, it helps reduce environmental pollution as it can grow on wastewater from potato processing plants, straw, molasses, animal wastes and sewage. Another example is Methylophilus methylotrophus, a bacterium that can produce 25 tonnes of proteins. Nowadays, fungi such as mushroom are accepted as edible. Scientists believe that soon, microbes too will be accepted as a food supplement.

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