Challenges to Biotechnology in
Sayyar Khan Kazi
are living in an age, where almost all aspects of human life
have been revolutionized by the highly sophisticated and
In recent years, we have
witnessed on print and electronic media, several scientific
endeavors to target innovations and discoveries beyond the
boundaries of our planet Earth.
Technologically advanced countries such as the USA,
European Union, Japan and emerging powers like China and
India are beating one another to have speedy access to the
mysteries of other planets.
In the quest of unraveling scientific mysteries,
several missions from these countries have been launched to
Moon, Mars and other planets in order to lead and dictate
the terms upon which the human future will rely. Overall,
there has been unpreced- ented progress towards
industrialization that revolutionized every aspect of human
life including medical and health care, aviation,
urbanization, infrastructure and agriculture.
This off course presents a
bright picture of the evolution of human civilizations as a
result of thousands years of transformation from living in
an age of stone to highly civilized societies equipped with
social and scientific tools to govern this planet Earth.
Like other scientific
disciplines, Agriculture science has received much
importance due to the growing needs of expanding populations
for more food, feed, fiber and alternative energy resources.
In this connection, the advent of modern biotechnology and
genetic engineering tools has enabled scientists to
manipulate the genetic material of organisms in order to
exploit its hidden enormous potential.
In the past two decades,
biotechnological tools have brought a paradigm shift in the
orthodox and traditional ways and means of improving our
various industries, health sciences, environment and
For example, in agriculture,
since 1995, there has been a sudden boom in the production
of transgenic varieties of agricultural crops with enhanced
protection from insect pests and diseases. Farmers around
the world have gained maximum economic gains from the
adoption of these improved crop varieties.
The wide adoption of these
improved crop varieties by farmers around the world has
resulted a huge economic benefit and positive effects on the
environment by less pesticide application.
After the successful
production and adoption of disease resistant crop plants,
agriculture biotechnology is entering into a new phase of
developing second generation transgenic crops that will be
able to grow on marginal lands with high water and soil
salinity and drought stresses.
It is anticipated that the
development of these crop varieties will help to feed the
growing populations, particularly in regions of Sub-Saharan
Africa and Asia, where majority people are facing hunger,
poor quality and malnourished food.
Keeping in view the promising
role of biotechnology for securing the future of our coming
generations, increasing number of countries, public, private
sectors and multinational companies have joined the race and
invested billions of dollars for research and development
In some areas, scientists
have excelled and accomplished significant targets like crop
disease resistance as mentioned above and development of
accurate laboratory tools for genetic dissection, diagnosis
and research on human genetic diseases.
Pakistan, a developing
country is facing multi-faceted challenges including energy
crisis, food security, rapid urbanization and declining
fresh water resources in the wake of increasing population
and the more global phenomenon of climate change.
Like other countries,
Pakistan also took a bold step towards adoption of modern
biotechnology and started to establish biotechnology centers
across the country. In all key national science and
technology policies, the role of biotechnology as a
potential tool for the growth and socio-economic development
has been well acknowledged.
In National science and technology policies launched in
1997 and later in 2009, biotechnology was emphasized one of
the priority areas. Pakistan also contributed and pioneered
the establishment of an International Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), initially proposed to
be built in Pakistan but later on jointly built in India and
Despite the initial recognition and quick response,
biotechnology did not take roots as an emerging source of
socio-economic development in the country. For example, we
started research on insect resistant transgenic cotton
varieties back in 1995 and developed some transgenic lines
but it took almost 15 years to launch legal commercial
cultivation of these varieties in 2010.
The other leading cotton
producing countries namely USA, China and India adopted and
commercialized transgenic cotton varieties in 1996, 1997 and
2002 respectively and farmers in these countries earned huge
In addition, we are also
lagging behind other countries in development of second
generation transgenic crops with improved tolerance to
environmental stresses and crops for bio-energy production.
The dependency on fossil fuels as energy sources is on the
decline because of the enormous potential of bio-feed stocks
(crops, trees and grasses) to produce bio-energy products
such as ethanol, biodiesel, butanol and petroleum on
industrial scale. (To Be Continued)
The Frontier Post