Table of Contents

1. Overview

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines biotechnology as: “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use”.

These technologies are applied in crops, forestry, livestock and aquaculture, and in food processing.

They are used for many different purposes, such as the genetic improvement of plants and animals to increase their yields or efficiency; characterisation and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture; plant and animal disease diagnosis; vaccine development; and production of fermented foods.

Source: (adapted) 


2. Biotechnology in agriculture-related sectors

The publication, Biotechnologies for Agricultural Development, which can be downloaded at, discusses the following points in detail. The notes below are taken from that publication.

Biotechnology in crops

Biotechnologies used for crops include tissue culture based techniques (such as micropropagation), mutagenesis (the use of agents like chemicals or radiation to modify DNA), interspecific or intergeneric hybridisation, genetic modification, marker-assisted selection (MAS), disease diagnostics and bioprotection, and biofertilisation.

It is important to underline that biotechnology can assist and expand, but not substitute, traditional plant breeding programmes. The presence of skilled personnel and adequate facilities for the identification of appropriate parents and segregating materials, as well as the selection of improved lines for their stabilisation and agronomic assessment, are essential. Even countries that decide to rely on research results obtained abroad, for instance in neighbouring countries with similar ecological conditions, need capacities for the evaluation, adaptation and adoption of improved lines developed elsewhere. Investments in biotechnology infrastructures and human capacities cannot therefore be made at the expense of conventional breeding or agronomic research and strong breeding programmes must remain at the core of crop improvement.

Source: Biotechnologies for Agricultural Development, p 28 


Biotechnology in livestock

Artificial insemination (AI), Embryo Transfer (ET) and use of molecular markers is the focus. A wide range of biotechnologies are available and have already been used in developing countries in the main animal science disciplines, i.e. animal reproduction, genetics and breeding; animal nutrition and production; and animal health.

In animal reproduction, genetics and breeding, artificial insemination (AI) has perhaps been the most widely applied animal biotechnology, particularly in combination with cryopreservation, allowing significant genetic improvement for productivity as well as the global dissemination of selected male germplasm. Complementary technologies such as monitoring reproductive hormones, oestrus synchronization and semen sexing can improve the efficiency of AI. Embryo transfer provides the same opportunities for females, albeit on a much smaller scale and at a much greater price. Molecular DNA markers can also be used for genetic improvement through marker-assisted selection (MAS) as well as to characterise and conserve animal genetic resources. [p 123]

 Biotechnologies for Agricultural Development identifies and looks at the following:

  • Artificial insemination
  • Sperm sexing
  • Progesterone monitoring
  • Oestrus synchronization
  • Embryo transfer
  • Embryo sexing
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Cryopreservation
  • Cloning
  • Recombinant DNA technology
  • Molecular markers

Products from biotechnological processes are added to animal feeds e.g. nutrients, enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics. Biotechnology also advances measures to benefit e.g. sterile insect technique (SIT) to counter insects like tsetse fly which cause livestock disease.