Researchers Explore Innovative Approach To Pesticide-free Food Production

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The use of pesticides to eradicate pests, weeds, and illnesses in crops is commonplace; nevertheless, if they are applied carelessly, they can leave behind residues on food that could be harmful to human health and the environment, researchers have disclosed.

This is even as researchers at Quest International University (QIU), Malaysia, were exploring new growing methods focused on pesticide-free and ecosystem-friendly food production system.

The lead researcher and associate professor in the School of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Integrated Life Sciences, QIU, Dr. Ranjetta Poobathy, during a tour of the University by QNET, a lifestyle company, averred that improper use of pesticides on farm land poses a great threat to human health and environment.

Coupled with this challenge is deforestation and climate change challenges, which have made the production of certain crops, such as Bentong ginger, lose its aroma and medicinal value, Poobathy posited.

Faced with these challenges, the researcher said QIU has come up with tissue culture, an innovative approach of allowing rapid propagation of superior quality plants while preserving their genetic heritage. Unlike genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which involve direct modification of genes, tissue culture focuses on the selection and propagation of natural plants with desirable traits, she averred.

Speaking on the process involved in tissue culture, Poobathy said the first stage is to select the mother plants, adding that selecting a suitable plant source is crucial. Explaining further, she said, “Explants are selected from a disease-free and healthy mother plant to reduce contamination of cultures.

“The next stage is to isolate the explants, surface-sterilise them using chemicals and culture them on nutrient media. The medium must contain all necessary components, including minerals, sugar and hormones, to make the explant perform as desired.
“Plantlets that are produced from stage one are further sub-cultured into fresh media depending on their species and needs. This is followed by pre-transplanting/rooting stage. The primary function of this stage is to induce root formation in the tissue cultured plantlets to prepare them for acclimatization from In Vitro to In vivo conditions. Roots are important for water and nutrient absorption. Plants with weak root systems will not be able to adapt to their external growth environment.

“Next stage is transplanting/acclimatization/hardening. The primary goal of this stage is to gently introduce the in vitro plantlets to greenhouse conditions with minimal losses. The hardening process include adjustments like physiological and anatomical changes; humidity level (higher to lower); low light to high light levels for photosynthetic competence. The plants must become self-sustaining, taking up water and minerals through their roots and photosynthesizing through their leaves to produce nutrients.”

Reducing pesticide use is an essential strategy in a healthier agricultural system, Poobathy said, adding that, “This allows us to eat healthier foods, especially raw vegetables used in salads, without fear of chemical residues. By growing in a natural environment, we also reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases, bacteria and insects. Growing in controlled conditions help to optimize plant growth, while preserving their natural characteristics.”

When asked if this process can tackle food crisis, Poobathy said the importance of producing resilient plants adapted to various climatic conditions, can help tackle food crisis, adding that tissue culture offers an effective solution to rapidly propagate plants with specific traits, thereby meeting growing economic needs and contributing to global food security.

“This new approach to agriculture represents an important step towards a healthier, more sustainable and more resilient food system. By prioritizing environmentally friendly agricultural practices and emphasizing food quality, we can create a future where food is abundant, nutritious and respectful of the planet,” she added.

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