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Plant Genetic Engineering: Genetic Modification

Genetic engineering is the manipulation of the genes of an organism by completely altering the structure of the organism so as to come up with different characteristics of the same organism. Genetic engineering has been successfully applied in different fields with a lot of success especially in the disciplines of agriculture and medicine. Unlike traditional breeding, the components of the genes are directly manipulated in genetic engineering. Examples of genetic engineering modifications in the modern times include: modification of bacteria to form insulin, modification of food products so that they are resistant to bacteria, manufacturing bacteria and viruses which are used in research and modification of the genetic components of vegetables and fruits so that they are either resistant to cold or hot weather conditions. With the advent of genetic engineering, scientist can transfer isolated genes of choice into plants which will definitely result in desired characteristics from the parent cell. The genes inserted will then display a particular trait that was aimed at.

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Agricultural activities in the world depend entirely on crop production that provides basic food that is meant either for human consumption or animal use. There are other additional uses of plant stems which are meant to make ornaments, or fuel. Growth of research activities has led to genetic transformation of plants in order to satisfy the growing demand of the world’s population. Genetic engineering is based on introducing unique genes from other sources to already existing genes of plants with the aim of producing a crop that has better yields, high resistance to herbicides and insects and better nutritional content. But with modern demands of fuel, genetic modification of plants is playing a crucial role in production of bio fuel (Gaville, 1999).

Plants have unique features in their cells that are completely different from those of animals. Some of the features that cannot be found in the animal cell but are present in the plant cells are the cell wall and the central vacuole. Another feature on plant crops that is of importance to researchers is the ability of matured plant cells to rejuvenate from a solitary protoplast. When the cells of plants undergo enzymatic conditions with a purpose of removing the cell membrane, multiple plant cells are produced which resemble the parent cell. This final cell resulting from the parent cell is said to have undergone genetic engineering or cloning from the original cell of a plant cell. Researchers have also discovered crops that can easily be cloned to include vegetables, fruits and carrots. Gaville (1999) argued that, the ability of the cell to be manipulated from a single cell into a whole plant has enabled researchers to devise ways of developing a new mature plant from a single cell. This process is simple to execute in plants than animals because animals are difficult to be genetically engineered into full adults. Plants are totipotent, which is a characteristic of plants to grow from a secluded cell.

Although a lot has been achieved in genetic engineering, a lot is still to be accomplished in cloning. Plants have many chromosomal components and tend to grow slowly when compared to cells in the laboratory, therefore, limited attempts have been successful in manipulating animal cells. Cloning in plants is limited to a few vector techniques compared to the animal cloning which has a variety of vector techniques. A common approach to cloning in plants is the induction of tumor plasmid. Plasmid is found in bacteria that live in the soil which has the ability to cause infectivity in plants causing tumorous lumps. The plasmid has the ability to regenerate itself and when it is infected to a plant cell, it separates from the host cell and forms its own components. The plasmid is used as a transporting agent of the manipulating genes into the host cells of the plant. Insertion is one of the methods used inject foreign cells into the parent adult cell. Once the foreign DNA is in the genes of the host cells, the original cell multiplies with each cell containing gene that was introduced. This is then passed on to the future generations of the plant with Mendelian sequencing obeyed (Fettnon, 2004).

According to Salbin (2003), genetic engineering has some benefits associated with it. Researchers have discovered that when the genetic component of crops like potatoes and fruits are manipulated, there is a considerable increase in the yield and better products with high quality. Inventions of in genetic engineering have led to production of plants that can survive harsh climatic environments. The nutritional value and taste can be improved using genetic engineering techniques. Seeds can be engineered to resist the effects of pests and to withstand moderately tough climatic environments. One of the recent findings is the use of At-DBF2, when used to manipulate the genes of crops like tobacco they make it withstand harsh conditions of the climate and the soil. Crops like fruits and vegetables are known to stay for a short time before they spoil, but with application of biotechnology, they can have longer periods in the shelves. Biotechnology can further lead to production of nutrients and other substances with medicinal value.

Despite the many benefits associated with cloning, it has some shortcomings. Since it involves introduction of foreign genes to the host cells, critics believe that it contaminates the crops. Because of their resistance to the effects of weeds, researchers believe this effect is harmful to the natural plants. As much as cloning improves the flavor and appearance of foodstuffs, they might affect negatively the nutritional value. Insertion of foreign genes to the host plant can lead to introduction of new pathogens (Marmar, 2005).

However, the effects of genetically modified foods on the health of human beings are amazing. Meint (1994) wrote that persons who have been monitored to be using genetically modified foods have developed the following complications: development of allergies and complications in the respiratory system, complication on the skin and intestines. In a study of volunteers who used genetically modified foods, the foreign genes that had been inserted were transferred into their intestines. It is therefore most likely that the same genes are transferred into human cells. Although research has shown that chances of transfer of the foreign genes are low, health organizations have recommended the abstinence of genetically modified due to the hazards associated with its use.

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Fettnon, D. (2004). Genetic Modification. London: Independence Educational Publishers.

Gaville, H. (1999). The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health. Chicago: BMJ Books Puplishers.

Marmar, S. (2005). Genetic Modification: Study Guide (Exploring the Issues). Sydney: Independence Educational Publishers.

Meints, H. (1994). Recombinant viruses as transformation vectors of marine macroalgae. Paris: Express Publishers.

Salbin, M. (2003). Superfoods: Genetic Modification of Foods. New Yolk: Heineman.

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