While plants are harder to work with in comparison to bacteria, it’s possible to make gene insertions into single plant cells. The cells are then cultivated to grow into mature plants. The primary technique for inserting genes is via the plasmids of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens. It’s a bacterium that invades the cells of plants, and its plasmids carry tumor inducing genes. Scientists remove the tumor genes and acquire a plasmid that combines with the plant cells without bringing any harm. DNA technology has been used in farming to enhance the efficiency of plant growth and resistance to diseases and pests.
Which career combines DNA technology and agriculture? The profession that combines DNA technologies and agriculture is Agricultural Biotechnology (Agritech). It’s a field of agricultural science that involves the use of scientific tools and methods to modify living organisms. During the 20th century, a technological surge led to a growth in agricultural biotechnology.
Between the 1930s and 60s, the world witnessed a tremendous increase in food production because of the Green Revolution. That revolution included the use of high-yielding plant varieties, more use of fertilizers and improved irrigation techniques. While the green revolution tripled the supply of food globally, it still wasn’t sufficient for the increasing population. Additionally, farmers used agrochemicals to increase crop yield, but they were too expensive and added to environmental pollution. However, overtime it was discovered that it was possible to increase crop yield using environmental-friendly approaches of agricultural biotechnology. Here, I discuss more about the profession of agricultural biotechnology, and the possible salaries.
Is Agricultural Biotechnology a Good Career?
Biotechnology is applied in multiple ways in farming. Companies specializing in agricultural biotechnology work to provide farmers with tools to improve crop and animal yield, while minimizing production costs.
Agricultural biotechnology might also involve the production of ornamental plants like orchids and plants that can act as biofuels.
To accomplish such aims, biotechnologists create products to guard plants and animals from diseases. They also aid farmers in identifying the best animals and crop seeds to utilize in selective breeding. Let’s say a certain fish farm is raising tilapia fish. If the fish were to contract a particular virus, they would all die and the owner of the farm would incur losses. To avoid infections, farmers administer vaccines, developed via biotechnology.
The implementation of biological sciences in agriculture has become more prominent in the past three decades. Scientists first inserted genes into corn via molecular methods in 1989 and by the end of the 20th century farmers were cultivating millions of acres of transgenic corn.
Gone are the days when agricultural jobs only meant toiling hard under the hot sun and waiting for crops to grow. Today, the industry has advanced in multiple ways creating numerous job opportunities.
For thousands of years, farmers have manipulated plants and animals to achieve desirable traits. By combining various strains of plants or animals, humans have initiated the development of countless organisms. Many modern crops look completely different from their previous versions thousands of years ago.
Agricultural technology is a combination of tools and disciplines that help in modifying organisms for a specific purpose. The purpose can be anything from coaxing larger yields of crops to developing a natural resistance to particular diseases. Although there are multiple methods to attain this objective, the technique that usually gets the most attention is genetic modification.
A gene is basically a segment of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that displays a certain characteristic or contributes to a particular function. All in all, genes determine everything including the color of a person’s eyes or existence of allergies to specific substances.
As scientists study what genes affect different aspects of organisms, they can take measures to manipulate those features or functions. One way to do so is to extract genetic information from single organisms and insert it into a different organism. For instance, a researcher may discover that a certain bacterium has a resistance to a particular herbicide. From there, he might want to extract those genes and introduce them to a crop. Then he could use herbicides to destroy pest plants like weeds while the useful crops stay safe.
Some people feel that altering the fundamental composition of organisms is unnatural. However, the fact is that humans have been using much cruder methods for thousands of years. When a farmer crossbreeds plants, he or she is engaging in a primitive form of genetic modification. But with crossbreeding methods, all the genes of a single type of organism are inserted to all the genes of the other organism. They are not accurate, and may take generations of crops before farmers get the desired results.
Agricultural biotechnology allows scientists to pick and select which genes will be inserted into an organism.
Benefits of Agricultural Biotechnology
The uses of agricultural biotechnology are almost limitless. Daily diets across the world often include multiple products that come from agricultural biotechnology processes.
Through genetic manipulation, researchers are able to create plants that produce more than their untouched counterparts. Additionally, it’s possible to introduce genes for the purpose of ensuring a plant offers more nutritional value. An excellent example is the Golden Rice Project in which scientists used genetic engineering to develop rice full of vitamin A. Although unmodified rice already possesses genes that can produce vitamin A, the genes are often switched off during the growth stages. The genes introduced to golden rice ensure the vitamin A producing genes stay on.
Another significant application of agricultural biotechnology is providing plants with the ability to grow in a wider variety of settings. Some crops do well only in specific soil or climatic conditions. By inserting genes from other organisms, biotechnologists can alter those crops, so that they can grow in all sorts of environments. Land that had previously been unsuitable for plants can be reclaimed for the production of food.
Agricultural biotechnology is also used to make crops more resistant to diseases, attack by pests, and chemicals. Manipulation of genes can provide plants with a defense against threats that would normally destroy a whole generation of crops. The technique can create plants that are unsuitable for pests, but safe for consumption by humans. Alternatively, biotechnologists can create genes that lead to pesticide – and herbicide-resistant crops, so that farmers can treat their plants with chemicals.
By inserting new genes or altering the features of existing genes, biotechnologists can change everything from how food looks to its taste.
Career Options in Agricultural Biotechnology and Average Salaries
The average annual salary for agricultural biotechnology is $70,525 (as of September 2019) in the United States. Most salaries range between $39,500 and $97,500 depending on the location and years of working experience.
Agricultural biotechnology is a broad field, which offers a chance to join various job titles. For any expat looking to pursue a profession in the field, here are some highly demanded roles and their average salaries.
- Bioinformatics Scientist: $95,994 (US) and £47,351 (UK) per year
- Marine Biologist: $51,580 (US) and £45,000 (UK)
- Microbiologist: $52,326 (US) and £23,117 (UK)
- Molecular Biologist: $60,057 (US) and £31,368 (UK)
- Nematologist: $69,854 (US)
- Plant Biologist: $70,000 (US)
- Plant Geneticist: $78,833 (US) and £23,000 (UK)
- Plant Pathologist: $81,732 (US) and £27,561 (UK)
- Zoologist: $72,815(US) and £28,000 (UK)
Why Pursue an Agricultural Biotechnology Degree Program?
For an expat looking to enter the field of agricultural biotechnology, it all starts with getting a bachelor’s degree. A major in agricultural biotechnology is suitable for students who want work as lab or research techs in plant biotechnology, physiology, breeding or genetics. The degree program also offers adequate preparation for advanced studies. Before graduating, students usually have to attend a professional internship.
During the program, students receive classroom, field and lab experiences needed for well-paying jobs in farming, government or other industries.
Agricultural biotechnology students share a set of primary courses with some other majors under the category of integrated plant sciences. Some of the courses under Agritech include:
- Introduction to Biochemistry
- Cell Biology
- General Genetics
- Molecular Genetics
- Plant Genomics
Studying agricultural biotechnology gives one a robust background in science and economics rooted in theoretical and hands-on experiences. In the lab-extensive, practical learning setting, one gets to focus on the physiology of plants, animals, and microorganisms.
With a bachelor in Agricultural Biotechnology, one can pursue any of the following occupations:
- Agricultural engineering
- Cellular biology
- Plant pathology
- Farm consulting
- Sales and business
- Animal science
- Animal health inspection
- Environmental sciences
- Water resource management
- Waste and compost management
- Pest management and bio control
Taking up a profession in the agricultural biotechnology field comes with a variety of benefits. For starters, biotechnologists get a chance to conduct experiments in a laboratory environment. Additionally, the role offers great job satisfaction in trying to find ways to improve farming and animal rearing methods. The sector is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years, offering more job opportunities to interested candidates. Moreover, the profession comes with significant incomes, which increase with more years of experience.
On the downside the job market for agricultural biotechnology graduates faces stiff competition. Landing a well-paying position might be difficult in the beginning. The work of specialists in this field is also faced with high speculation, because some people are wary of genetically modified organisms.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.