Any cheese in the 'fridge? For more than 20 years, the cheese you eat has been created with a biotech enzyme, chymosin. The natural enzyme is found in calves and used to curdle milk during cheese production. Using biotechnology to make the enzyme results in more plentiful and purer supplies, while eliminating the need to use animals for this purpose. The biotech enzyme is used in approximately 60 percent of all hardcheese products.
In fact, more than 70 percent of the processed foods purchased in the supermarket contain ingredients improved through biotechnolog; oil and meal from soybeans, corn and cotton seeds. Biotech crops improve yields, cut costs and reduce pesticide applications. Not only does that improve farmers' bottom lines, but it also saves time - improving farmers' quality of life.
Safe and Healthier Foods
As obesity rates climb to epidemic levels, biotechnology is helping to create a new generation of healthier oils from soybeans, canola and sunflowers. These oils are free of the trans fats that can raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
Other biotechnology products would improve nutritional content. One such product, “golden rice,” would provide vitamin A to millions of people in developing countries who suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin, which is critical for eyesight and anemia prevention. This is only one example of several fortified foods now in development.
Hundreds of millions of Africans rely on sorghum, one of the few crops that grow in arid conditions. It's used to make cakes, beer and porridge as well as livestock feed. With grants from U.S. groups, African scientists are working to make sorghum more easily digestible by humans and to increase its levels of several key nutitional elements, including zinc, iron, vitamin A, amino acids and protein.
In some cases, biotech can improve a food by removing an allergen. An estimated 5.4 to 7 million Americans are allergic to such common foods as peanuts, shellfish, milk, soy, wheat and eggs. Children with food allergies are particularly vulnerable to anaphylactic shock, which results in about 125 deaths each year in the United States. Biotechnology scientists are working to isolate the specific proteins that trigger allergic reactions and modify the foods so as to eliminate the health risk.
Biotechnology can also help make meats safer through innovations in animal health. More then 100 animal biotech products are helping to assure animals are healthy when they leave the farm for processing.
To make animal products even safer in the future, biotech researchers are developing products to prevent animals from harboring the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that cause more than 73,000 cases of illness each year in the United States. Biotech researchers and companies are also developing DNA-based animal identification systems to quickly track future outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) and quickly remove affected meat from grocery stores. Moreover, Korean researchers have cloned cattle that are not susceptible to BSE - pointing the way toward a BSE-free future.
Cleaner Manufacturing and Environmental Challenges
After more than two decades of success in health care and food production, scientists are now looking for ways to use biotechnology to make manufacturing of common products - like plastic and fuel - cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable through the use of renewable resources.
How many plastic products can you see right now? While you and your family may be concerned about the enormous use of petroleum products for energy, the plastic products that surround you in your home or office are also made from oil Ã³ much of it from overseas. That may be changing forever, very soon.
New plastics are coming into your home made with corn and other plants, not petroleum, via a biotechnology process. Think of the impact on the environment: the plants themselves will be taking carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow, while delivering products that do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in their use or disposal. The result is cleaner air, cleaner water and a cleaner planet for your children.
New fuels like biodiesel and ethanol are coming on the market. Biodiesel is made by extracting oils from soybeans and other crops. New bio-degradable greases and lubricants for the family car also are being made from agricultural oils. Ethanol can be made from corn or, using new biotech processes, it can be made from agricultural residues such as wheat straw, cornhusks, rice straw or even grass clippings.
Biotechnology is also being applied in more direct ways to environmental cleanup. A process called bioremediation uses microorganisms to reduce, eliminate, or contain contaminants.
How does all this affect your everyday life? Such common products as vitamins, paper and faded blue jeans can now be manufactured with less energy and pollution. Plus, every time you take fresh clothes out of the dryer youÃre benefiting from the detergent enzymes developed by biotechnology to remove deep stains. These enzymes have replaced the phosphates that used to be a serious pollutant for the nation's rivers and streams.