Whip up your understanding of plant biotechnology

Canadian consumers enjoy variety in their diets and this sometimes takes the form of a simple change in the foods we regularly consume, like choosing orange cauliflower or purple potatoes in the place of the typical off-white variety.

These colourful alternatives are widely available thanks to plant breeding, a technique that involves crossing plant varieties over many years until the desired colour is achieved.

Janice Tranberg

Plant biotechnology, an extension of plant breeding, offers its own variety of benefits such as healthier foods and increased yields. But consumers are sometimes hesitant to accept plant biotechnology, which is a bit perplexing given their acceptance of traditional plant breeding techniques.

Janice Tranberg, who leads the Council for Biotechnology Information in Canada, helps put consumers at ease by explaining plant biotechnology’s relationship to plant breeding with an interesting comparison – whipped cream. “There are a number of ways to turn liquid cream into its whipped counterpart,” says Tranberg. “You can use electric beaters, a hand held whisk and in a pinch, a fork can also do the trick. All three tools produce the same thing; they incorporate air into cream. The main difference is how long it takes to achieve the desired result.

Compared to plant breeding, plant biotechnology is in a faster way for scientists and breeders to achieve a desired characteristic.”

Tranberg is quick to point out that the use of the term ‘faster’ is relative. Products of plant biotechnology take years and years to come to market because of the rigorous testing they are put through to ensure their safety. Also of note is that scientists are currently using plant biotechnology to develop strawberries with improved shelf-life, texture and flavour, something that Tranberg thinks will go very well with whipped cream.

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