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Biotechnology Australia
Biotechnology Australia is the Australian Government body responsible for coordinating
all non-regulatory biotechnology issues. Its Public Awareness Program exists to provide
factual and balanced information to the public to enable them to make more informed
choices about applications of biotechnology.
Biotechnology Australia is an agency comprising five Australian Government
Department of Health and Ageing;
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research;
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
Department of the Environment Water, Heritage and the Arts; and
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
© Commonwealth of Australia 2008
ISBN 0 642 72583 7
All products in this resource are Copyright 2008, Commonwealth of Australia. You are
welcome to display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only for your
personal or non-commercial use. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act
1968, all other rights are reserved. Requests for further authorisation should be directed
to To the maximum extent permitted by the law, we
specifically disclaim responsibility for any loss you may suffer as a result of relying on the
information on this resource. While we make every effort to ensure that material in this
publication is accurate and up to date (unless denoted as archival material), you should
make independent inquiries before acting on, or entering any commitment, based on
material published here.
Referrals to other organisations are provided in good faith, but we can give no assurance
of the quality, accuracy, or relevance of goods and services from these organisations.
This booklet explains the use of biotechnology in agriculture and related industries, focussing on Australian
Each section contains background information, a timeline of developments, potential applications, current
research areas, issues and future directions.
Words printed in bold text are defined in the glossary at the end of the booklet.
Overview ............................................................................................................ 1
Biofuels .............................................................................................................. 3
Biopharming ....................................................................................................... 6
Cloning of animals .............................................................................................. 8
Environmental applications of biotechnology ................................................... 11
Genetically modified food and crops ................................................................. 14
Food crops produced using non-GM biotechnology ........................................... 19
Livestock production ........................................................................................ 22
Managing pests and disease ............................................................................. 24
Nutraceuticals .................................................................................................. 28
Public debate and public attitudes .................................................................... 30
Regulation of genetically modified organisms .................................................. 34
Glossary ........................................................................................................... 37
Useful web sites ............................................................................................... 41
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
What is biotechnology?
Biotechnology is the technological application of biology. It can also be described as the
use of living organisms to make or modify products or processes, such as are used in
brewing through the use of micro-organisms, or in modifying crops for new features.
Modern biotechnology plays an important role in Australia's economy. Apart from its
use in agriculture and health, modern biotechnology offers possible solutions to future
environmental challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and land degradation.
What is agricultural biotechnology?
Common uses of agricultural biotechnology include improving plant and animal
production and creating new, high-value agricultural products.
Some areas in which agribiotech can be applied are:
animals and animal health
fibre crops (e.g. cotton)
food crops.
Advances in these areas may help keep our country competitive and at the cutting edge
of agriculture, food processing, forestry and environmental management.
Agribiotech techniques have been used in agriculture for hundreds of years. For example,
farmers have always deliberately selected plants and animals with desirable
characteristics, breeding only from the selected individuals. This is a form of traditional
Some examples of modern agribiotech research and applications are:
the use of biotechnology to assist conventional breeding
selective breeding of crops to develop an insect-resistance that allows a reduction
in pesticide use
selective breeding of crops to develop herbicide-tolerance that allows herbicides
to be sprayed on the field, killing weeds but not harming the crop, and encouraging
better weed management to reduce the number of sprays used
using naturally occurring and genetically modified (GM) bacteria, fungi and
enzymes that break down toxic and hazardous substances in the environment.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Gene technology is a subset of biotechnology which involves the targeted transfer of
genes between organisms, or manipulation of genes within an organism. Gene
technology can be used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There
are, generally speaking, three different categories of genetic modification:
Internal Genetic Modification - that is working with the genes within an organism
or species.
Close Family Genetic Modification - that is transferring genes from a closely related
species, which could also generally be done by conventional breeding techniques.
Cross-species Genetic Modification - that is transferring genes from an unrelated
species or across kingdoms (e.g. animal-plant, bacteria-plant).
Applications of genetic modification in agriculture include:
producing crops that are herbicide-tolerant or pest-resistant
producing crops that can be used for producing pharmaceuticals
producing bacteria that can clean up pollution.
Issues surrounding the use of biotechnology in agriculture include:
safety of new crop varieties
segregation of GM and non-GM crops for overseas and local markets (where there
is sensitivity to GMOs)
ensuring safety of food derived from GM crops and cloned animals or their offspring
segregation of plants or animals bred or engineered to produce pharmaceuticals or
industrial chemicals from the food chain (where there are health concerns)
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
managing the potential effects on our ecology and biodiversity of releasing new
crops, animals or other biotechnology products.
Biotech story:
Cancer-fighting tomatoes
Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that is thought to lower the risk of
coronary heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Researchers at Purdue University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural
Research Service are developing a new cancer-fighting tomato variety, which offers more
than three times the amount of lycopene than conventional tomatoes.
Researchers expect commercial varieties of the lycopene-packed tomatoes to be
available between 2009 and 2012.
Regulation and Safety
Most Australians strongly support a regulatory regime that protects human health and
the environment, and yet public attitude surveys show that people are divided as to their
awareness of Australia's strong regulatory system and their belief in the rigour of existing
levels of regulation.
Australian consumers are more willing to support gene technology and biotechnology
in agriculture when they see benefits for health or the environment, and when they are
aware of the regulatory systems that exist.
Two key regulators in Australia in relation to agricultural biotechnology are the Office of
the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), and Food Standards Australia New Zealand
For more information see Regulation (page 29).
Biofuels are designed to replace or be used in conjunction with existing petroleum-based
fuels. There are two common types of biofuel; ethanol, produced from sugars and starch,
and biodiesel, produced from vegetable oils or animal fats. Although some diesel
engines can operate on straight vegetable oil as a fuel, converting it to biodiesel makes
it cleaner-burning and slightly more efficient. The use of vegetable oil as a fuel predated
petroleum-based diesel by many years (see timeline below).
Biofuels are not a new concept. Brazil, for example, has used plant-based fuels since the
1970s, when the country switched a large proportion of its fuel supply to a cheaper
home-grown product: ethanol produced from cane sugar.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
1 Biofuels in the European Union: A vision for 2030, European Commission, 2006
2 Biomass as feedstock for a bioenergy and bioproducts industry: the technical feasibility of a billion-ton annual
supply, US Department of Energy / Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2005
Applications of biofuels
Biofuels have the potential to provide significant environmental benefits. Their use could
help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease the levels of toxins in our air and
water, and reduce environmental impacts caused by mining for fossil fuels.
What stage are we at now?
Biofuels are most commonly used in low-concentration blends with petroleum products.
Internationally ethanol and biodiesel account for more than 90 per cent of total biofuel
usage. Sugarcane, canola and corn are the major sources of raw material for biofuel
production, while other potential crops being researched include Indian mustard and
Jatropha. There is significant research into the use of crop waste for biofuel production,
such as corn stalks, sugarcane bagasse (sugar cane residue) or wood waste.
Biotech story: Fuel from algae
Scientists at South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) in South
Australia are selecting and developing aquatic microalgae as a source of oil for
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Studies show that algae can produce up to 60% of their biomass in the form of oil.
Because the cells grow in aqueous suspension where they have more efficient access to
water, CO2 and dissolved nutrients, microalgae are capable of producing large amounts
of oil in either pond culture or bioreactors.
Biotech story: Bacterial biogas
AnaeCo Limited, based in Western Australia, is developing a new technology that uses
bacteria to break down waste.
The resulting heat and biogas are harnessed to create a self-sustaining system that
produces commercial grade compost, and excess electricity that can be fed into the local
Issues include the possible impacts on food and feed production, and their prices, as a
result of replacing food crops with biofuel crops, or diverting dual purpose crops (such as
corn) to biofuel. There is also the possibility that using more ethanol may increase
groundwater contamination and photochemical smog and not reduce environmental
What does the future hold?
Biotechnology offers the prospect of producing biofuels competitively from readilyavailable plant material such as wheat straw, grasses, micro-algae, wood waste and
bagasse. This technology is still in the process of being proven commercially but could
reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and benefit the environment.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Biopharming, also known as 'molecular pharming', uses genetically modified (GM)
plants or animals to produce pharmaceutical proteins and chemicals such as vaccines,
hormones and blood clotting or blood thinning agents.
GM animals or plants may be able to produce desired medicinal compounds at high levels
and lower cost than can be achieved by other current means (such as synthetic
chemistry, isolation from animal tissue, animal cell cultures or GM microorganisms).
The use of GM plants or animals may also avoid health and safety concerns, such as the
presence of human pathogens, associated with alternative production methods.
3 Human factor IX transgenic sheep produced by transfer of nuclei from transfected fetal fibroblasts, Science 19
December 1997: Vol. 278. no 5346, pp 1230-2133
Applications of biopharming
The main advantage of biopharming is the production of cheaper, safer pharmaceuticals
and chemicals. For example some transgenic animals, such as cows, sheep and goats can
produce large amounts of useful human proteins in their milk. These proteins can then be
purified from the milk for therapeutic use for humans.
Plants could make relatively cheap pharmaceutical and chemical 'factories'. In the same
way that sugarcane is harvested and refined to produce sugar, compounds produced
inside a GM plant are extracted and processed after harvesting. Instead of producing a
food or fibre product, the end result could be a medicine. Plant made pharmaceuticals
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
that do not require refrigeration also offer potential advantages for storage and
distribution in places with limited infrastructure.
What stage are we at now?
World-wide, crops including corn, soybeans, tobacco, alfalfa and rice are being used to
produce medical or industrial products, including human enzymes, antibodies and
In Australia, scientists have been focusing on plants like tobacco, bananas and sugarcane
which have particular advantages for biopharming. For example, tobacco is a non-food
crop, avoiding entry of the product into the food chain, which may be an issue for some
compounds. In Australia, tobacco is also grown in a highly-regulated environment.
Bananas are sterile, so there is no risk of modified genes being transferred to other
banana plants through cross-pollination. Sugarcane produces very large amounts of plant
material and can also be grown as an essentially sterile crop.
The use of animals in biopharming raises some ethical issues, such as how animals are
housed, treated and managed.
The entry of some medical compounds into the food supply may present a health
concern. Where this is the case, the GM plants and animals would need to be segregated
from the human and animal food supply. Non-food species could be used, such as the
tobacco example mentioned previously. Otherwise, farmers will need to ensure that there
is effective isolation from other crops or livestock.
What does the future hold?
Widespread commercial production of biopharmed pharmaceuticals is still some time
By using GM plants or animals to make pharmaceutical products, scientists may
eventually be able to produce food with therapeutic benefits, such as preventing or
treating some diseases. They may also be able to develop designer foods that
complement people's individual genetic makeup to improve their health.
Biopharming may provide a means of making some medicine more readily available to
a wider range of people.
Biotech story: Plant-based vaccines
Researchers in the USA have used genetic modification to develop potatoes that contain
a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV).
HPV, the major cause of cervical cancer, is one of the most prevalent sexually
transmitted diseases. A plant-based vaccine would be especially useful in developing
countries, where traditional vaccines are both difficult and costly to administer.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Cloning of animals
Animals, like humans, inherit a unique combination of genes from two sources - their
mother and father. Animal clones, however, inherit their genes from a single source.
They are genetic copies of a particular animal.
Animal clones are produced by replacing the DNA in an egg cell with the DNA from the
animal which is to be cloned. The altered egg cell is then transferred to a surrogate
mother's womb, where it develops as normal.
Although clones derived from the same source have the same genes, they do not look
or behave exactly the same way. For instance, a cloned cow will have different skin
patterns than the cow it was cloned from. This is due to a random settling of skin
patterns that occur during the early stages of embryo development.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Applications of animal cloning
Conventional animal breeding introduces variability with each generation of offspring,
due to the random mixing of genetic information that occurs in sexual reproduction. For
example, a cattle farmer breeding from a superior bull will obtain a range of offspring
that may or may not have the same characteristics as the father.
Because a cloned animal has the same genes as its 'donor parent', it should exhibit the
same characteristics. Cloning animals that have desirable characteristics can therefore
be an efficient way to produce superior animals. These animals are likely to be used in
breeding programs, rather than directly for food production, due to their cost.
Cloning can be used in conjunction with genetic modification to allow the addition of
genes, producing animals that can generate useful products.
What stage are we at now?
Since Dolly the sheep was born in 1996, many other mammalian species, including cows,
pigs, mice and rats, have also been cloned. However, the cloning process is still costly
and inefficient, as only a small per cent of attempts result in live births.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Australia's first cloned cow, Suzi, was born in April 2000. In 2005, she gave birth to a
healthy heifer calf called Suzitru. Suzi's milk is regularly analysed before being discarded,
and tests show it to be the same as milk from any other cow.
Australia's livestock industries currently have a voluntary ban on the use of products
from cloned animals in the human food supply. There are only a small number of cloned
animals in Australia, and due to their value, they are confined to the research
Biotech story: Molly and Polly
In 1997 researchers from the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced they had
successfully created two GM lambs, Molly and Polly. The lambs were clones derived from
a fetal sheep cell into which a human gene had been introduced.
The researchers hoped that Molly and Polly would produce factor IX in their milk. Factor
IX derived from the milk of such GM sheep could then be used to treat hemophilia B, a
genetic blood-clotting disorder.
In 1998, PPL Therapeutics announced that their sheep produced 300mg per litre of factor
IX in their milk - 60 times the amount produced by humans.
Ensuring that food from cloned animals or their offspring is safe and does not adversely
affect consumers is an important issue, as is animal welfare of clones, including whether
cloned animals are more susceptible to disease.
What does the future hold?
Future research may improve the success rate of cloning and lower costs, leading to
increased use of cloning in animal production, and allow applications in new areas such
as endangered species breeding. Other applications may include producing clones of GM
animals for pharmaceutical agents (see Biopharming on page 8), and the production of
large numbers of genetically identical animals for use as models in human disease
Biotech story: Is cloned meat and milk safe to eat?
In January 2008, US Food and Drug Administration scientists published a risk assessment
stating products from certain cloned animals were safe for human consumption and did
not need any special labelling.
The risk assessment concluded that "meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine and
goats, and food from the sexually reproduced offspring of clones, are as safe to eat as
food from conventionally bred animals."
New Zealand authorities have also stated that food from clones is as safe to eat as food
from conventionally bred animals. Australia is closely monitoring international research in
this area.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Environmental applications of biotechnology
Recently, biotechnology researchers have turned their attention to solving
environmental problems - cleaning up old problems, and enabling cleaner and greener
industries in the future.
Environmental biotechnology makes use of biological enzymes and living organisms,
such as bacteria and yeasts, across a variety of applications.
Applications of environmental biotechnology
Environmental biotechnology has the potential to produce technological solutions to
environmental problems such as industrial and chemical pollution, natural build-ups of
methane and ethanol, detecting contaminants or pathogens from large volume sources
and controlling biofouling caused by microorganisms.
What stage are we at now?
Environmental and industrial biotechnology research is very broad and the two
disciplines have a significant degree of overlap. Some examples are given below.
Biofilms are collections of bacteria that group together on surfaces, forming complex
structures that protect them from attack. Although biofilms are usually harmless, they
can sometimes be havens for infectious diseases. They can also cause undesirable taste
and odours in water, and can lead to microbial initiated corrosion of water and oil pipes.
Researchers from the Environmental Biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre are
studying the natural formation and breakdown of biofilms. They have discovered how to
trick bacteria into breaking out of their protective biofilm structure, enabling them to be
quickly and easily destroyed.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Biodiscovery involves searching for new and potentially useful biological compounds and
characteristics among naturally occurring flora and fauna. For example a new species of
bacteria that holds the secret to safe breakdown of some toxic wastes might be
discovered in municipal landfill sites.
Source: Environmental Biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre
Bioremediation uses living organisms to clean up the environment. Naturally occurring
and GM microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, as well as enzymes, are used to
break down toxic and hazardous substances present in the environment due to human
Bacterial factories
Living cells can be used as 'factories' to produce useful enzymes (as well as antibiotics,
vitamins, vaccines and proteins for medical use).
Eco-efficient enzymes
Biological enzymes can be used as an alternative to chemical processes to make various
products. Enzymes may use less water, raw materials, and energy than chemical
processes, thereby minimising environmental impact.
For example, the use of enzymes in washing powder saves energy by enabling stains to
be removed at lower temperatures.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Biomass (plant material) such as starch, cellulose, vegetable oils and agricultural waste
can be used to produce useful chemicals (such as 1,3 propanediol, which is used in
adhesives, laminates and mouldings), biodegradable plastics, pesticides, new fibres,
stock food (protein), compost and biofuels.
Ownership rights of indigenous communities in areas where organisms are sourced and
the potential for 'biopiracy' need to be considered (see
What does the future hold?
There are many potential applications of environmental biotechnology.
Researchers can already use gene technology or other biotechnology techniques to
mix and match traits from different bacterial species. The desirable traits of several
species could be combined to produce varieties that break down many different types of
waste and pollution.
For example, it may be possible to extract a gene from one bacterial strain that allows
the breakdown of a specific hazardous waste, and a gene from another strain that allows
survival in extreme conditions such as high or low temperatures. The genes could then
be transferred into a common, harmless bacterial species that can be easily mass
Advances in biotechnology may also transform our forestry industries. Fermentation
processes can be used to transform wood waste into new products. Forest industries
could expand from the production of wood products, pulp, and paper, into areas such as
biofuels, plastics, textiles and pharmaceuticals, gaining more value from the same
Biotechnology techniques are also being used to understand the functions of tree
genes involved in growth and wood characteristics. If these characteristics can be
enhanced, then faster growing trees could fulfil demand using less land, and specialised
trees could be grown to make particular products.
Biotech story: Biosensors
Scientists at the Environmental Biotechnology CRC are developing biosensors to quickly
and accurately measure water contamination levels. This will allow users to detect
pollutants and pathogens such as E. coli, Giardia and Legionella using rapid testing
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Biotech story: Munching microbes
With growing pollution problems across the globe, bioremediation solutions for
contaminated sites are becoming increasingly important.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales have been harnessing bacteria to
clean up polluted land and water by creating bacterial communities capable of digesting
chlorinated hydrocarbons. Sites they have already worked on include land at Botany in
Genetically modified food and crops
When growing crops for food, feed and fibre, farmers select the plants that best suit their
needs - for example, the highest-yielding or most pest-resistant crop, or the juiciest fruit.
These characteristics are largely controlled by the plant's genes.
Just as with animal breeding, conventional plant breeding techniques result in variability
in each generation. By crossing different plant varieties, a breeder may produce a plant
with a desired characteristic, such as a juicy fruit, but the plant may also be susceptible
to disease. If the genes for these characteristics are linked, (i.e. physically close
together on the plant's chromosomes) it can take years of further breeding to remove
the unwanted characteristic.
Using modern biotechnology techniques, plants with desirable traits can be bred more
selectively, by identifying the genes that control a particular characteristic and
genetically modifying the plant accordingly.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Genetic modification of plants involves the insertion of new genes into the plant's
existing genetic material (or the manipulation of the genes within a plant). Within
Australia, all GM crops must be extensively tested in the laboratory and the field before
being commercially grown (see Regulation on page 29 for further information).
Applications of GM crops
GM crops can provide benefits to farmers such as improved pest resistance or higher
yield. The environment can also benefit through a reduction in chemicals used for crop
production. Genetic modification also has the potential to provide foods that have
specific consumer benefits, such as improved nutritional qualities.
What stage are we at now?
Genetic modification is currently used overseas in agriculture and food production to:
increase pest-resistance in crops, reducing the use of pesticides
achieve tolerance to certain herbicides, increasing weed control options, facilitating
no-till and low-till farming practices and reducing the use of environmentally
persistent herbicides
improve disease resistance in crops
Biotech story: Drought tolerant wheat
Scientists at the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC have introduced genes derived from plants
and yeast into wheat to produce proteins that may improve drought tolerance.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Drought tolerant wheat could help feed a larger number of the world's hungry, as well as
potentially generating substantial export income for Australia.
The GM wheat will be compared with non-GM wheat for the ability to secure greater yield
under moderate to severe drought conditions, and the application has been reviewed by
the OGTR for any potential risks to human health or the environment.
increase crop yield
improve the nutritional quality of the food produced by the plant
breed salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant plants.
To date, commercial growing of genetically modified plants in Australia has been limited
to insect-resistant (Bt) cottons (known commercially as Ingard® and BollgardII®
cotton), three herbicide-tolerant cottons as well as varieties that are both insect-resistant
and herbicide-tolerant, and GM carnations with altered flower colour. While herbicide
tolerant canola was approved for commercial release in 2003, most States put moratoria
in place until at least 2008 due to marketing concerns. The moratoria prevented these
varieties being grown commercially until 2008. For more information, see Regulation
(page 29).
Overseas, the most commonly grown GM crops are canola, soybeans, corn, and cotton,
grown for food, fibre or animal feed. While the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, India and
China account for most of the world's production of GM crops, they are grown by more
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
than 10 million farmers in 23 countries. Other countries that have approved GM crops
include South Africa, Spain, Poland and the Philippines1.
Currently no GM fresh vegetables or fruit are approved for food use in Australia. Foods
that are found on supermarket shelves that may contain GM ingredients include some
processed foods, some cake icings and lecithin products.
GM ingredients, from either domestic or imported sources, that are approved for food use
in Australia include:
canola oil
Biotech story: Frost-resistant barley
Scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) and
Department of Primary Industries at La Trobe University in Victoria are developing frostresistant cereal crop varieties using genes taken from the Antarctic hair grass.
The research aims to breed plants that can tolerate temperatures two degrees lower than
currently available varieties, which would help make them less susceptible to frost
damage. and
cottonseed oil
As previously mentioned, these are GM ingredients that may appear in foods, no GM
fresh produce is approved for consumption in Australia.
Ensuring protection of human health and the environment is an ongoing issue for GM
foods and crops. In Australia, every new GM crop needs to be assessed by the Gene
Technology Regulator, and GM foods are assessed by Food Standards Australia New
Zealand. The potential impact of GM crops on overseas and local markets, and
segregation of GM and non-GM crops are also issues for industry and the public.
Public attitudes towards GM foods can be complex and difficult to accurately measure,
but studies by Biotechnology Australia show that between 2005 and 2007 there has been
a large increase in support of GM food crops rising from 48% to 73%.
James, C. (2007) Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops: 2007. ISAAA
Brief No.37: Ithaca NY
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
What does the future hold?
Within the next decade, a second generation of GM crops with more direct benefits to
consumers is expected. These benefits may include increased vitamin and nutrient
concentrations, improved ratios of 'healthy' starches and oils, and removal of allergycausing substances.
Food crops produced using non-GM biotechnology
A plant's characteristics, such as yield, pest resistance and taste, are largely controlled
by the plant's genes. Farmers and scientists use methods such as controlled pollination,
inter-species crosses and screening of progeny to select for desired traits and breed
improved plants. All the major food crops we eat today are far removed from their wild
ancestors, and continue to be altered and improved using both traditional and modern
breeding and selection techniques.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Applications of non-GM biotechnology for crops
Food crops have been produced by biotechnology for many hundreds of years, but new
understandings of genetics and the genes within a particular species (genomics),
allows for more sophisticated and targeted non-GM breeding.
What stage are we at now?
Conventionally, plant breeding could take many years to develop a new crop variety,
often more than 12 years. Molecular markers are DNA sequences that are physically
close on a plant's chromosomes to genes conferring particular traits. Plant breeders use
these markers as flags to identify whether desired characteristics are present in a plant,
allowing large numbers of individuals to be screened at a very early stage of growth,
cutting years off the time taken to develop a new crop variety.
By understanding plant genes and their function, scientists are identifying genes
associated with characteristics such as yield, improved disease resistance or better
quality. With this knowledge, new crop varieties can be developed using molecular
marker assisted breeding or gene technology.
Even though these foods are non-GM, if they are 'novel' (e.g. a non-traditional food or a
new food with a significantly altered composition), they need to be approved by Food
Standards Australia New Zealand before release to ensure safety for consumers.
What does the future hold?
Both traditional and modern biotechnology will continue to be used to improve crops.
New varieties may be developed that can better deal with various environmental stresses
(which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change), increase yield and produce food
products that are better for human health and more efficient for animal production.
Biotech story: Food Futures Flagship
Australia's ability to efficiently produce clean, healthy foods makes us ideally placed to
produce and supply premium products to the global food market.
The Food Futures Flagship, one of nine National Research Flagships established by
CSIRO, aims to transform Australia's agrifood industry in collaborations between CSIRO,
and leading research and industry partners.
By applying the latest technologies, including biotechnologies, the Flagship program will
help make Australia's agribusiness sector more sustainable, prosperous and
internationally competitive.
Food Futures Flagship researchers are developing new wheat varieties with high levels of
resistant starch. Diets high in resistant starch have been associated with improved bowel
health and a reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer.
Researchers are also developing commercial varieties of oil seed crops that produce
healthy omega-3 oils. A diet rich in these oils has many health benefits, including
improved cardiovascular health and reduced incidence of type-2 diabetes and asthma.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Biotech story: Better breeding wheat
Scientists at CSIRO Plant Industry are hoping to better understand the genetic basis of
the variation in growth, development and yield of wheat.
The aim is to identify the genes responsible for these features and use this knowledge to
make classical breeding quicker and more effective in breeding higher yielding wheats.
Livestock production
Modern biotechnology techniques are being applied in a number of animal breeding
programs, particularly in dairy, sheep and beef cattle. Examples include early diagnosis
of disease, and improvements in animal nutrition, wool fibre quality, meat marbling, and
muscle development and composition.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Applications of biotechnology in livestock production
Applying biotechnology techniques to livestock production offers many benefits to
primary producers and consumers. It could also increase productivity, quality and costeffectiveness of the livestock industry.
Potential benefits to the livestock industry include faster growth, improved pest and
disease resistance, and better vaccines and diagnostic tests for disease. Consumers could
benefit through improved taste, texture and nutritional value of food, as well as new food
products and ingredients.
What stage are we at now?
The diagnosis, prevention and treatment of livestock diseases are being transformed by
advances in biotechnology.
The use of genetic marker technology can optimise traditional breeding methods in any
production animal or fish species. Genetic marker research by the Victorian Department
of Primary Industries and the Innovative Dairy Products Cooperative Research Centre is
enabling industry to improve the genetic traits of Australian dairy herds. CSIROdeveloped genetic tests for tenderness and marbling are routinely used by producers in
the beef industry.
Biotech story: Leaner and more feed-efficient pigs
Primegro Limited, based in Adelaide, and its major customer, QAF Meat Industries, are
developing a patented technology to help livestock breeders select superior breeding
PrimeGROTM IGF-1 is based on a blood test for a protein called insulin-like growth factor1. Levels of IGF-1 in young animals are genetically correlated with economically
important traits, such as feed efficiency and fat levels.
Extensive research and development projects are also being conducted on sheep, beef
and dairy cattle in conjunction with other major livestock industry projects
The information provided by the Primegro test enables breeders to increase the rate of
genetic improvement of their stock.
Continuing to adequately ensure that human health and the environment will not be
adversely affected by these new techniques will be important, and every new application
will need to be regulated and managed effectively. Also the ethical treatment and health
and well-being of livestock in research is an issue.
Biotech story: Immune-enhanced chickens
Imugene Ltd., based in NSW, is currently conducting trials of fowl adenoviruses (FAV) to
deliver vaccines and cytokines to chickens.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Chickens raised in commercial facilities are exposed to a range of organisms that may
cause low grade infections, adversely affecting their general health and production. To
counteract this, antibiotics are often added to chicken feed. Using the FAV to
economically deliver antigens against diseases or cytokines to stimulate the birds'
immune systems, the FAV delivery system is being developed to provide an alternative to
the use of antibiotics.
What does the future hold?
The use of biotechnology techniques could enhance the production and health of
livestock. For example, scientists may be able to improve the quality of livestock feed by
improving nutrient content and digestibility of low quality feeds.
Another potential application is the genetic modification of dairy cattle or goats to alter
the composition of their milk to include a beneficial protein that could improve consumer
nutrition or even treat disease. This work, however, is still in the early stages of research
and any future commercial production would be subject to stringent regulation to protect
human health and the environment.
Managing pests and disease
Invasive animals, also known as feral animals, are a huge problem all over the world, but
particularly in Australia, which is host to more than 80 introduced vertebrate animal
species. More than 30 of these are now considered invasive pests.
Pests and diseases can impact on Australia's food safety, trade, market access,
environment and agricultural industry sustainability.
Biotechnology is being used to develop biological control methods for invasive
animals, to either control their populations or reduce the harm they cause to the
environment, as well as to improve disease management by reducing the transmission of
infectious diseases.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Applications of biotechnology
Biotechnology research can be used to develop effective methods to control invasive
animals, plants and diseases.
Invasive animals cause at least $720 million damage in Australia every year
Biotechnology tools will also play a key role in the control of disease outbreaks in
Australia and the region, and are important to the provision of evidence to support
market-access decisions and the protection of trade.
One example, avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, could pose a major threat to
the Australian poultry industry. Scientists from the Victorian Department of Primary
Industries and CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) are collaborating
with the United
McLeod, R. (2004) Counting the cost: Impact of Invasive Animals in Australia 2004.
Cooperative Research Centre for Pest Animal Control, Canberra
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Biotech story: Cane toad control
Researchers at the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research are using genetics to
try to eradicate one of northern Australia's most stubborn pests, the cane toad.
By learning about the genome sequence researchers will be able to better develop
strategies which can be used to control this pest and help protect our environment and
native wildlife.
This includes new biological control agents, finding genetic markers to enable ecological
studies of movement of toad and frog populations, discovering the genes that control sex
development in the cane toad and identifying the genes involved in cane toad toxin
Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in their work on bird flu.
Using biotechnology, the researchers are monitoring different strains of bird flu viruses
that are present in the environment, and following genetic changes (mutations) that
occur in the 'H5N1' strain. This collaboration will allow Australian scientists to gain
experience with the disease in the field, and possibly develop measures to prevent or
manage disease outbreaks in Australia.
What stage are we at now?
Researchers from Australia's Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IA CRC) are
using biotechnology techniques in several research areas including the 'Daughterless'
technology, which aims to control carp numbers by creating a fish population with many
more males than females. By blocking production of a particular protein involved in
female carp development, only male fish are produced.
The CRC is also looking at contraceptive vaccines that could be used to control
populations of large herbivores, such as feral horses and camels and are studying cane
toad parasites and the toad's own toxic venom as possible means of cane toad
biological control.
In disease control, CSIRO and Intervet scientists have developed a unique vaccine,
Bovilis® MH against Mannheimia haemolytica (MH), the main bacterial pathogen
associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD). BRD is a potentially fatal form of cattle
pneumonia. The vaccine improves animal welfare and reduces the need for antibiotics
and anti-inflammatory drugs in the cattle industry.
Vaccines for veterinary use are often produced using biotechnology. For example,
TickGARD™ is a CSIRO-developed GM vaccine against cattle tick. Released in Australia
in 1994, it was the first commercial anti-tick vaccine in the world. TickGARD™ does not
eradicate ticks, but cuts down their survival rate and severely damages their ability to
Researchers at CSIRO Livestock Industries, working in collaboration with the Western
Australia Department of Agriculture, have found naturally high levels of omega-3 fatty
acids in some sheep. They have established that this is a heritable trait, so it is possible
to breed sheep with high levels of these healthy fats, to the benefit of the consumer.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Disease diagnostic tests have also been developed using biotechnology techniques.
Scientists at the Victorian DPI have developed rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR)based diagnostic tests that detect various subtypes of the bird flu virus, including H5N1.
CSIRO Livestock Industries researchers have developed a PCR test to identify the
presence of disease-causing viruses in prawn farms. The highly-sensitive test can detect
low levels of a virus, before infection develops, thereby allowing management actions to
prevent it from spreading to other prawns.
Biosecurity is the protection of the economy, environment and human health from the
negative impacts of pests and diseases, including the management of invasive species if
they become established. The Australian Government continues to develop and
implement risk-based frameworks and strategies to coordinate and improve national
biosecurity, which will include use of biotechnology to improve our understanding of
disease ecology, diagnosis, and surveillance. This will help Australia to deal more
effectively with disease incursion or outbreaks
Issues include the potential for pests to develop resistance to a biological control, and
the potential effects on Australia's ecology and biodiversity following the release of new
organisms into the environment.
The changing global environment, particularly climate change, leads to continuously
changing risks. Australia needs to be able to better predict and control these risks
including the introduction of new diseases (such as foot and mouth disease) and the
transmission to humans of bird or animal diseases (such as bird flu).
What does the future hold?
All invasive-animal control projects aim to develop more humane, species specific
methods for reducing feral populations. The IA CRC is developing baits that deliver toxins
specifically to the target species. Work is progressing to make baits, such as the Pigout®
wild pig bait, capable of safely conveying disease vaccines and fertility control agents.
Future projects may also include a more shelf-stable freeze-dried version of calicivirus for
controlling rabbits, a new humane toxin for foxes and wild dogs, and control tools for
pest birds.
In disease management the Australian Government continues to develop and implement
risk-based frameworks and strategies to coordinate and improve national biosecurity.
Within these frameworks and strategies, biotechnology developments will aid in
reducing risks by improving Australia's understanding of disease ecology and disease
diagnosis, and surveillance capabilities.
Biotech story: Biotech approaches to pest control
Aromatase (produced in the brain and reproductive organs) is the protein responsible for
stimulating female development in carp and other fish at the embryo stage.
By using biotechnology to greatly reduce (silence) the production of aromatase in carp,
scientists can bias sex ratios toward male development. Resulting male fish
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
(daughterless carriers) have normal reproductive capacity and pass the 'silencing'
characteristic to their progeny.
The daughterless carp technology was developed by CSIRO and aims to control carp
numbers through biasing sex ratios towards males. With fewer females in the population,
it is predicted that this genetic technology could sharply reduce carp numbers in the
Murray-Darling Basin within 20 to 30 years of release.
Food can have both nutritional and therapeutic effects. Nutraceuticals are foods or food
components that provide a medical or health benefit beyond basic nutrition, including the
prevention and treatment of disease. Foods containing nutraceuticals are called
functional foods.
The beneficial substances in functional foods may be naturally present, or their levels
may be boosted or added from other sources.
Biotechnology research aims to find and develop new nutraceutical products that have
consumer health benefits. Humans have used the therapeutic qualities of some foods to
prevent and treat disease for hundreds of years.
Applications of nutraceuticals
Nutraceuticals are being developed by the food, nutrition and pharmaceutical industries
as well as the herbal and dietary supplement market. There is potential to deliver
nutraceuticals through food, supplements and pharmaceuticals, where previously these
substances may have been present in only a small range of foods or products and
consumed at low levels.
What stage are we at now?
Current uses of biotechnology in nutraceuticals and functional foods research include:
compound analysis
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
increasing our understanding of medical biology
developing techniques for monitoring immune responses and functional food
Biotech story: Seaweed saviours
Marinova, a company based in Tasmania, is conducting research trials into the bioactivity
of fucoidans, sulphated polysaccharides extracted from organic macroalgae.
The company published a stem cell clinical trial in April 2007 and is currently running
clinical trials in immune modulation and inflammatory pain relief in osteoarthritis.
The company provides pure fucoidan extracts as nutraceutical ingredients to many of the
larger US nutraceutical companies.
Research in these areas has contributed to the development of foods and food
supplements that reduce obesity and improve cardiovascular health, including
antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics, increased dietary fibre and low glycaemic-index (GI)
There are a number of nutraceutical products on the market as a result of
biotechnology research in the dairy industry. For example, chewing gum containing a
product called Recaldent™ helps to re-mineralise the enamel of human teeth. The active
ingredient is derived from a protein in milk that is used to deliver soluble forms of
calcium and phosphate to the surface of the teeth where they can help to strengthen the
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Other dairy research includes harvesting antibodies and bioactives from cows' milk,
which have a role in boosting the immune system after birth. This research is at an early
stage and no such milk products are available commercially.
Scientists from Food Science Australia have isolated an anti-arthritic nutraceutical,
chondroitin sulphate, from shark cartilage. This product provides benefits such as
improved mobility and pain reduction for arthritis sufferers.
Researchers from Southern Cross University are studying a natural seaweed extract
which might assist in the breakdown of dangerous blood clots and help protect against
inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.
Nutraceuticals need to be approved by the appropriate regulators to ensure safety to
human health (see Regulation on page 29).
What does the future hold?
There will be further opportunities to discover biologically active components and
incorporate them into foods. This research may lead to advances in nutrition, weight
control, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of certain diseases such as heart
For example, researchers from the CRC for Sugarcane Biotechnology are looking at
bioactive compounds in sugarcane. They are discovering high levels of bioactive
compounds, such as antioxidants, that could be used to produce supplements to prevent
or manage diseases such as prostate cancer.
Public debate and public attitudes
There is a wide range of opinion in the community about applications of biotechnology
in agriculture. The introduction of GM foods, for example, has led to diverse and often
contradictory arguments, both for and against.
Surveys have indicated that attitudes towards new foods, including GM foods, are
primarily driven by general attitudes towards food and whether people feel that benefits
of a new food outweigh any perceived risks. People who have a high level of concern
about food safety and nutrition also have concerns about GM foods, whereas people with
fewer general food concerns are less concerned about GM foods. 4
Since 2005 there have been major changes in public attitudes towards GM crops, based
on GM foods no longer being seen as futuristic or unknown, and their potential to offer
solutions to environmental problems such as drought, salinity and climate change. NonGM biotechnology applications are viewed even more favourably, with over 90 per cent
of the public supporting many applications that could address environmental problems,
such as combating salinity or cleaning up pollution.
What you really need to know about what the public thinks about GM foods,
Biotechnology Australia, 2005
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Attitudes towards GM foods5
Perceived value of broader objectives of biotechnology
Eureka Strategic Research 2007
During this period, awareness of both GM and non-GM technologies in agriculture has
risen, perceptions of usefulness have risen and perceptions of risk have dropped.
While results of surveys on the acceptance of GM foods vary, Australian consumers
overwhelmingly state that they want GM foods to be labelled, that they want more
balanced information to help them make up their own minds and that they find polarised
debates unhelpful in forming their opinions.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Value of different biotechnology applications
The chart opposite shows the high level of community support for applications that are
providing biotechnology 'solutions' to high-profile problems.
What stage are we at now?
The first generation of GM foods were not well accepted by consumers because most of
them were developed to have agronomic benefits (such as insect resistance) for
producers, not benefits for consumers. In addition, some people have been concerned
that GM foods may be potentially harmful to their family's health.
Researchers from the CRC for Sugarcane Biotechnology, with the support of
Biotechnology Australia, are conducting a survey to compare attitudes to GM crops
among members of the Queensland general public and sugarcane growing communities.
This is the first time that views of a particular industry group will be directly compared
with those of the general public.
A number of issues surrounding GM food and crops are currently being debated. These
issues are often based on a mixture of facts and beliefs. Research shows that attitudes to
GM foods and crops are often quite different to portrayals of public attitudes by interest
groups both for and against GM foods or crops.
Ethics inquires into the moral values of human behaviour and conduct. It has an
educative as well as a preventative function.
Professional ethicists take an active role in establishing and clarifying the ethical
boundaries within which societies choose to evolve and operate, and provide guidance by
commenting on topical issues.
Some of the ethical issues relating to biotechnology that have been discussed in the past,
are currently under discussion, or are in need of discussion, include:
GM foods, crops, organisms: Are they safe for humans and/or the environment?
Should GM foods be labelled, and, if so, to what extent? How appropriate are GM
foods, crops and organisms? Should we be cautious?
Commercialisation of products: What property rights, if any, should be attached
to genes, gene sequences and their products? Should genetic information and any
commercial benefits resulting from its use be shared? How do we prevent biopiracy
of indigenous knowledge?
Public policy issues: What policy measures should be developed to balance
societal concerns with commercial interests? How do we ensure fair and equitable
access to genetic testing, gene therapy, and other beneficial technologies?
Ethical standards in Australia are supported and complemented by relevant legislation
and regulation.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
However, six key findings in relation to public attitudes are:
What consumers say in surveys is not always how consumers actually behave
Many different studies have shown that consumers tend to present an idealised
view of how they shop, whether in relation to shopping 'green', buying 'healthy'
foods or avoiding some modern food-processing techniques, which leads to a poor
correlation between what people say they will buy and what they actually buy.
General attitudes towards foods are among the biggest predictors of attitudes
towards GM foods
Many attitudes towards GM foods are driven by general attitudes towards foods, so
if a person expresses a strong preference for 'organic' or 'healthy lifestyle' foods,
they will most probably reject GM foods. However, if a person is a large consumer
of processed foods, they will most likely accept GM foods.
In relative terms, GM food concerns are comparable to concerns about artificial
Surveys show that the highest food concerns tend to relate to the risk of disease
such as BSE being transmitted through meat, as well as uses of hormones,
bacteria and antibiotics in foods. When asked to rank their concerns about GM
foods, people rank them very close to pesticide residues or artificial preservatives
in foods.
There is a poor understanding of what 'genetically modified' actually means, and
what foods are genetically modified - with wide belief that many fruits and
vegetables in supermarkets may be GM
Only 35 per cent of the Australian population claim to know enough about genetic
modification such that they could explain it to a friend, and a large percentage of
people feel that almost any change to food is a genetic modification, including
flavour or nutritional enhancements in food, colours in food, and even food grown
with fertilisers.
Attitudes to GM foods are also influenced by a hierarchy of values
Positive values that influence attitudes to GM foods include:
consumer consultation
consumer benefit.
The three biggest negative values that drive attitudes against GM foods are:
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
GM foods have become a focus for various ideologies
In talking to people with high active concerns about GM foods, very few of them
actually articulate their concern as being about the food itself, rather they identify
with strong ideologies. Attitudes that tend to predict a stance against GM foods
concern about multinational control of the food chain
concern over governments dictating public choice
fear of new technologies
a perception that science is going too far, too fast and is not regulated
strongly enough
concern over all industrialisation of foods
a 'green' philosophy pertaining to humans not seeking to dominate nature.
Conversely, attitudes that tend to predict a stance in favour of GM foods include:
high trust in science
high trust in regulators
support for commercial development of new technologies
a philosophy that supports humans dominating their environment.
What does the future hold?
The next generation of food crops, being produced by both GM and non-GM technologies,
are likely to provide consumer benefits such as healthier oils, increased nutritional levels
and removal of allergens. If these benefits are realised, they are likely to lead to strong
support by consumers.
Regulation of genetically modified organisms
Gene technology has potential risks as well as benefits, and close scrutiny is needed to
ensure it is applied safely.
Australia has some of the most stringent and transparent gene technology regulation in
the world, particularly when the technology is used in the production of crops and food.
GMOs including GM crops are regulated by the Gene Technology Regulator and food
produced using gene technology is regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
What stage are we at now?
The development, trial and release of GMOs is regulated by law at a national level by the
Gene Technology Act (2000) (the Act), which has the object of protecting the health and
safety of people and the environment. The Act established an independent statutory
office holder, the Gene Technology Regulator, who is charged with administering the Act
and making decisions about the development and use of GMOs.
GM foods in Australia
GM ingredients that have been approved by FSANZ as safe for human consumption in
Australia include:
canola oil
cottonseed oil
In 2005-06 the national regulatory scheme for gene technology, which is overseen by
the Gene Technology Ministerial Council (comprising a relevant Minister from each State,
Territory and the Australian Government), was independently reviewed. The review
concluded that the scheme had worked well in the five years following its introduction,
and that no major changes were required. However, in 2007 a number of minor
legislative changes recommended by the review were made to improve the operation of
the scheme at the margin.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Details about the national legislative scheme for gene technology regulation in
Australia, including information on the Act and the Gene Technology Ministerial Council,
can be found on the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) website
The national regulatory scheme preserves the right of the States to pass their own laws
in the context of marketing and economic impacts. All States and Territories except
Queensland and the Northern Territory introduced moratoria restricting the growing of
GM crops. Some of the moratoria prohibited some or all commercial GM crops while
others only prohibit GM food crops.
Most States began reviews of their moratoria in 2007. Following these reviews, New
South Wales and Victoria decided to allow commercial production of GM crops. South
Australia decided to maintain its moratorium.
GMOs, or products derived from GMOs, may also be subject to regulation by the
Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), FSANZ, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary
Medicines Authority (APVMA) and the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and
Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), depending on the GMO, the trait and the intended use.
For example, GM food ingredients and processing aids are regulated by FSANZ; human
vaccines are regulated by the TGA; animal vaccines are regulated by the APVMA; and,
industrial chemicals such as enzymes are regulated by the NICNAS. Information on which
Australian government agencies regulate particular GM products, and the regulatory
processes involved, is available online ( and more details are
available at individual agency websites.
Public attitude research shows that the public is close to evenly divided on whether the
rules that regulate the use of gene technology are sufficiently rigorous, and whether
the rules that regulate the use of gene technology are complied with.
Public attitudes towards regulation
Base: All CATI. n=534
Eureka Strategic Research 2007
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
amino acids
Molecules that are the basic building blocks of proteins.
Specialised proteins produced by white blood cells to fight specific bacteria, viruses, or
other antigens.
Foreign substances (e.g. bacterial or viral proteins) which cause an immune response.
avian influenza
Also referred to as 'bird flu', this is a highly contagious influenza virus that can infect any
bird, some strains of which have also been known to infect humans.
Bacillus thuringiensis
A species of soil bacterium that possess genes for a class of insecticidal proteins called
the Bt toxins. Different strains of the bacterium produce different Bt toxins. Some
organic farmers use this bacterium to control pest insects as an alternative to using
synthetic chemicals. The genes for Bt toxins have been inserted into GM cotton plants,
allowing the crop to produce the Bt toxin, reducing the need for insecticides sprays.
A large group of single-celled organisms that do not have organelles enclosed in
membranes. Most of their DNA is contained in a single chromosome, with the remainder
contained in small circles called plasmids. Bacteria have a cell wall composed of protein
and complex carbohydrate surrounding a plasma membrane.
The dry, fibrous residue that remains after the stalks of sugar cane have been crushed
and all the juice extracted. It can be used as a source of cellulose for some paper
products or as a raw material for biofuel production.
An alternative fuel made from natural renewable sources such animal fats or vegetable
oils. It has similar properties to petroleum but emits fewer environmental pollutants.
Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications, either as a diesel
fuel substitute, or added to petroleum-based fuels to reduce their polluting effect.
Examples include oils such as soybean, rapeseed, sunflower or animal tallow.
Investigating biological resources (e.g. plants, animals, and microorganisms) for
characteristics that might have a wider application and/or commercial value
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
biological control
The control of a population of one organism by another organism. Generally, the
controlling organism is a predator, parasite or disease-causing organism of the species
being controlled.
When living organisms attach to and start living on any object that is submerged in the
sea. A commonly seen example is barnacles attached to the hulls of ships or the bodies
of whales.
The process of farming GM plants or animals to be used as living pharmaceutical
Unauthorised use of biological resources (e.g. the patenting and privatisation of biological
or genetic resources without the consent of the originating community).
The use of plants or microorganisms to consume or otherwise help remove materials,
such as toxic chemical wastes and metals, from contaminated sites - especially soil and
A broad term generally used to describe the use of biology in industrial processes such as
agriculture, brewing and drug development. Traditional applications include animal
breeding, brewing beer with yeast, and cheese making with bacteria. Modern
biotechnology also includes the use of gene technology, which allows genetic material
to be modified within a particular species or moved from one species to another.
Bt toxins
Insecticidal proteins naturally produced by the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis
Bt crops
Crop plants that contain genes for Bt toxins. Examples are Bollgard II® cotton and
Ingard® cotton.
The basic unit of life in all organisms. It contains a complete copy of the organism's
genome. In eukaryotic cells the genome is contained in an organelle called the nucleus.
Complex organisms are multicellular. Prokaryotic organism are single celled and have
no nucleus.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
A group of cells or organisms that are genetically identical as a result of being derived
from one individual by asexual reproduction or use of nuclear transplantation.
The process of producing a genetically-identical copy. Genes, cells and whole organisms
can be cloned. A clone is produced from one individual cell.
Deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic material of living organisms. DNA provides the code
for the production of RNA and proteins.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with moral standards and their affect on
human conduct, both at an individual and societal level.
functional foods
Foods and beverages with potential health benefits.
Something of mixed origin or composition. In the case of a plant or animal, a hybrid is
produced by breeding together plants or animals of different varieties, species or race. It
is the offspring of genetically dissimilar parents.
A sequence of DNA that codes for the synthesis of a specific protein or has a specific
regulatory function.
gene technology
The technology used to take a single gene from a plant or animal cell and insert it into
another plant or animal cell of the same or different species.
genetic marker
A sequence of DNA that is known to be associated with a particular gene or trait.
genetic modification (GM)
A process of gene technology that alters the genetic material of a living organism.
This includes inserting one or more new genes or altering the activities of an existing
gene. Microorganisms, plants or animals (humans included) can be genetically
genetically modified organism (GMO)
An organism (plant, animal, bacteria, or virus) whose genetic material has been
altered by gene technology.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
The entire complement of genetic material (genes plus non-coding sequences) present
in each cell of an organism, virus or organelle.
The study of whole genomes of organisms to understand the structure, function and
evolution of the organism and its genes.
Organisms that can only be seen with the aid of a microscope. They are also known as
A change in the DNA sequence of a gene or organism. Some mutations result in an
altered characteristic of an organism, which may be beneficial, neutral or harmful for
the organism.
A living thing which contains DNA and is capable of cell replication by itself, (e.g.
bacteria, plants and animals).
A disease-causing organism.
A chemical used to kills pests.
polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
A chemical reaction used to create multiple copies of a gene sequence, making it easier
to manipulate and/or identify.
Dietary supplements containing cultures of beneficial microorganisms.
A long-chain molecule made up of amino acids, the sequence of which determines the
protein's function. The sequence of amino acids is determined by the order of DNA
bases found in the gene coding for that protein.
Ribonucleic acid, a single strand organic polymer that is generally produced from a DNA
template by transcription, and in turn acts as a template for protein synthesis or
provides some other function in living organisms.
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
selective breeding
A process by which new or improved strains of plants or animals are developed through
controlled mating, or crossing, followed by selection of progeny for desired traits.
A feature of an organism that is genetically controlled.
A preparation that contains either whole disease-causing organisms such as viruses
which have been killed or weakened, or parts of such organisms, used to confer
immunity against the disease that the organisms cause. Vaccine preparations can be
natural, synthetic or derived using biotechnology.
A group of particles that do not have a cellular structure and can only reproduce in living
cells. They consist of a DNA or RNA genome surrounded by a protein coat and
sometimes a lipid membrane.
Useful web sites
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority
Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease
Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
Bioenergy Australia
Biotechnology Australia
CSIRO Livestock Industries
CSIRO Plant Industry
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Environmental Biotechnology CRC
Agricultural Biotechnology Developments
Food Futures Flagship
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand
Grains Research & Development Corporation
Invasive Animal CRC
Office of the Gene Technology Regulator