Genetic engineering in agriculture: everything you need to know

Genetic engineering in agriculture originated about 10,000 years ago, when certain plants began to be domesticated and were no longer able to live in the wild without human supervision. These same procedures that allowed domestication were helpful in introducing the genetic modifications that today improve the plant’s suitability for cultivation and adaptation to new habitats.

According to the ISAAA (International Service for Acquisition of Agrobiotechnological Applications), the number of hectares planted with GMOs reached 190 million in 2019 and is increasing.

What is genetic engineering?

Genetic engineering is the modification of a cell’s genes to achieve a specific goal, such as finding cures for diseases or the study of DNA fragments for multiple purposes. It serves not only to change those nuances that we do not want, but also to get to the source of these nuances.

This process is different from selective breeding, which involves the selection of plants or animals with desired traits that, through breeding, result in offspring possessing the desired traits.

How is it applied in agriculture?

De igual forma que los humanos o los animales, las plantas también tienen ADN. This DNA contains segments called genes, which provide the instructions necessary for the production of certain proteins. By modifying genes in the plant’s DNA, scientists are able to control many aspects of the plant: its size, its resistance, its colour, etc.

Modification involves taking genes from other organisms (commonly humans) and introducing and combining them into the genetic material of the plant. As a result of numerous technological advances, scientists know which genes result in diseases and also which genes are able to combat them. The products obtained from these modified plants are called recombinant proteins.

Benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture

There are multiple benefits of genetic engineering, among which we highlight:

    • It allows the production of varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases: thanks to genetic modification, the new transgenic plants become immune to multiple organisms or diseases, thereby increasing productivity.
    • It makes possible the incorporation of desired characteristics to the plant: for example, products with greater resistance, size, better nutritional qualities, etc… are obtained.
    • It creates plants that are more adaptable to different types of environments: these GM crops can survive in both drier and colder climates.
    • Environmentally friendly production system: In addition to the above, mutations in plants do not harm the environment.
Engineers genetically modify a tomato


Genetic engineering in agriculture offers a number of advantages that could not be implemented in other sectors. In the Sustainability, Challenges and Solutions module of our International Master in Agribusiness Management you will learn about the challenges and opportunities in the agribusiness world, such as the role of genetic engineering in the prosperity of the sector.

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