The first use of recombinant DNA technology, was created by Cohen and Boyer in 1972 with E.coli in 1972 and this article explains this advancement in biotechnology in greater detail. Here is an excerpt:
“Their experiments dramatically demonstrated the potential impact of DNA recombinant engineering on medicine and pharmacology, industry and agriculture.”
Recombinant insulin was the first commercial product derived from genetic engineering techniques created in 1976 by the Genetech Company. Virtually all diabetics today use this type of insulin because of its advantages to the animal-derived insulin used before this technology.
In the early 1980s there were many simultaneous plant modification efforts initiated. Mary-Dell Chilton, known as “the mother of plant genetic modification,” led a team at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and successfully used Agrobacterium to insert a gene into tobacco plants. Robert Fraley, now the Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto but back then a PhD scientist at Monsanto, shared a similar achievement, using Agrobacterium to transport new genes into petunias. A third team at Ghent University in Belgium, led by scientists Jeff Schell and Marc Van Montagu, also succeeded in this area with Agrobacterium. These efforts in scientific research and development resulted in the world’s first genetically engineered plants.
Then there is the more familiar FlavrSavr tomato, created by Calgene and approved as the first GMO whole food in 1994. The tomato fruit enzyme polygalacturonase (PG) dissolves cell-wall pectin which is key to fruit ripening. The idea was to suppress PG accumulation in ripening tomatoes by introducing a reverse-orientation copy of the gene, an “antisense” copy designed to extend shelf life and storage. While demand for the tomato was high and remained high, profitability was limited. This tomato is no longer on the market.
The first genetically engineered product for human consumption, chymosin, was approved by FDA in 1999, which is added to milk during cheese making. This is also the preferred method as of today and prior to biotech solutions, these enzymes were extracted from the stomachs of calves. Biotech has enabled production that help cheese-makers to deliver the flavors and consistency that they — and we — are looking for, and eliminated the need to harvest this from calves.
This video by CropLife America illustrates the journey through the last 80 years of modern agriculture highlighting innovations such as the use of biotechnology in agriculture.