Why do genomics? Food
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Why do genomics? Food


Genomics has had a tremendous impact
on our culture and has transformed the way we produce almost everything that we eat. It’s not just putting genes into plants or animals in
the laboratory the way we think about when we think about GM organisms, but it actually involves the use of high-throughput technologies
to determine the genetic constitution of the animals or the plants that
you’re selecting – for example, improved yield or
disease resistance. Traditionally, this selection of desirable individuals has been based on what they
look like, you know, is the plant tall, does it look like it’s healthy, does the
bull look a particular way? And so, it’s always been a question of assuming that whatever the organism looks like will be determined genetically, and
you can then take advantage of their appearance of those visible traits, and
select for those traits and hope that the genes go along for the ride, if you
will. But genomics has completely changed
this. Now you can look directly at the genome of organisms using very high throughput technologies and
select the individuals that have particular genes that control the traits
that you’re interested in. So this technology depends upon knowing
which genes control which traits. So it depends upon that sort of
background information which is also been determined by genomic studies. So how is this done? In the case of very many companies, for example, they
have very sophisticated tools for doing this. They have what are called gene chippers. So thousands of seeds are fed past a robot it picks up the
seeds automatically, brings it over to something that looks
like a table saw, then actually chips off a piece of the
seed. It orients the seed so that the saw will only chip off the part that’s not gonna kill the seed It takes that little bit of plant material,
automatically extracts DNA from it, a DNA analysis is done, and then that information and the identity
of the seed, of course, is connected with that information, is then
put into a large database that a breeder can then screen, select the desired seed, plant in their
field, and then use for their crosses. The dairy industry has also
been transformed by this kind of technology where now individuals that produce high yielding
daughters, daughters that produce lots of milk, can be selected based on their
genotype and not just based on their appearance or even based on their parents, as their lineages it’s called, as has
been done in the past. So traditional breeding has been
transformed by these genomic tools, by information about the genes that control various traits, to do things on a scale and at a speed that was previously unimaginable.

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