Did you know that agricultural productivity has risen dramatically in recent years? Kyle Poling, DuPont Pioneer Field Agronomist, spoke with the Ag Biotech Academy workshop participants about using biotechnology to increase productivity. In 1930 farmers were producing 10 bushels off soybeans per acre, compared to 45 bushels per acre in 2010. What’s made that possible, and what will allow future increases, is genetic improvement of plants.

According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, biotechnology is “the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products, or any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use”. Poling spoke to the teachers about how biotechnology is used in
areas such as crop improvement, plant science, medicines, sustainable ag, creating a stable food supply and healthier foods.

“Think of biotechnology as a toolbox,” Poling said. The molecular marker is the most basic tool. He explained how scientists take a tissue sample from a soybean plant, extract the DNA and unwind it, looking for a molecular marker that attaches to that DNA. Molecular markers act as a convenient reference point that will be useful in finding one’s way around the chromosomes. In this way, markers are being used just as milestones were used by travelers in previous centuries. from this source 

Using MAS, or marker-assisted selection, breeders can sort varieties based on specific traits. Farmer used to plant many varieties in a field and attempt to measure the yield of each line.
Poling asked, “How effective would visual selection alone be if you were trying to sort out varieties for specific issues?” Biotechnology simply allows for more efficient and effective sorting and breeding of plants.

Poling said science teachers in urban/suburban schools can introduce students to agriculture in a real way. He noted that this is an opportune time to be in ag fields. “We must get students excited about not just science, but the ag in science. We are looking for the kind of kid who is mechanically inclined, interested in computers. There are all kinds of jobs in this field.”