What are Transgenic Plants?

Debra Durkee

Transgenic plants are those that have been genetically engineered to contain gene sequences that do not naturally occur within their species. These gene sequences can come from plants of a different species, and are introduced in order to try to change some fundamental characteristics of the plant. Some plants that most commonly undergo this process are food crops, which can ideally be made more efficient and more productive by the introduction of new genetic material.

Fruits and vegetables are often genetically modified.
Fruits and vegetables are often genetically modified.

Some of the desirable traits that can be bred into these transgenic plants include resistances to disease and pests, higher yield, higher quality fruits, vegetables, or flowers, and an increased tolerance to weather conditions. Until the invention of inserting new genetic material artificially, plants were bred to accent these characteristics by simply taking the best examples from the same species and crossing them in the hopes of developing the most impressive offspring. This process can be made more efficient with the aid of science.

Genetic engineering creates transgenic plants.
Genetic engineering creates transgenic plants.

One of the first steps is determining which genes are to be replaced. Every section of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) governs a different part of the plant, whether it is responsible for how many petals are on a flower or how long the cells develop. Genetic experts must determine what gene controls each specific process and then also determine which portion of what plant it will be replaced with.

In their native environments, plants receive new genetic material through the process of pollination. This new information is inserted artificially in processes that can be done in several ways in transgenic plants. Boilistics, a term that combines the words biology and ballistics, is the process by which new DNA is injected directly into the plant cells through the cell walls. This is the favored process when implanting a monocot, or plant with seedlings with only one seed leaf.

When it comes to creating transgenic dicots, the agrobacterium method has met with the most success. In this process, a soil-based species of bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens is used as a carrier. Injected with the new, desired strain of DNA, the bacteria are then introduced to the soil the plant is rooted it. This unique strain of bacteria then invades the plant and uses the plant's own cells to reproduce itself, introducing the new genetic strain.

Creating a successful group of transgenic plants depends on factors such as the ability of the plant to pass its new genetic sequence on to future generations. Once the gene has been successfully introduced and inherited, biologists must continue to study the new plant to make sure that there are no unforeseen complications that arise from the new genetic material. Transgenic plants are also known as genetically modified (GM) plants.

Kiwis, oranges and other fruits have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain diseases.
Kiwis, oranges and other fruits have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain diseases.

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