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Plant biotechnology and its many markets: environmental scan


This report aimed to examine the existing and potential application of modern biotechnology, as applied to plant life. It looked specifically at the potential role of agricultural biotech in the production of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals from crops in the emerging markets for various chemical feedstocks derived from plant material, and the use of plants in remediation of contaminated land and water. It also aimed to offer guidance for future foresighting of areas open for innovation that fit with Scottish expertise.


The methodology consisted of: explanations of the underpinning technology; an assessment of the status of the industry, including intellectual property (IP) dominance; an analysis of the challenges that the technology has faced; desk research of the genetic modification (GM) industry, including information from the International Service for Acquisition of Agro-Biotech applications; and case studies of biotech companies.


The report finds that plants offer an environmentally attractive means of meeting many global needs in an environmentally sustainable manner: modern genetic engineering allows the selective modification of plants to optimise their value for potential applications or as a tool to optimise conventional plant breeding. Concerns around GM will not disappear, but global macro-economic changes may shift opinion on the perceived risks-benefits of the technology. Technology platforms that underpin all plant-based markets offer opportunities for innovation. The markets which appear to be innovative and have most traction include: food and feed, biofuel, bulk chemicals and molecular pharming (high value); and biopesticides, forestry, phytoremediation and floriculture (potential for growth). Within Scotland, plant sciences and biotechnology is a particular area of strength, with world-leading university teams. The Scottish plant science community has worked hard to provide a strong, cohesive and supportive network. Scotland does not contain a critical mass of agbiotech companies, although the report suggests there is some expertise within the various Scottish markets, which could provide a foundation for growth in the future.


The report recommends further investigation of the innovation needs in the following areas: plant transformation tools and technologies; and bioplastics and biolubricants (specifically high-value speciality products). Further assessment of specific opportunities is needed within the application of molecular pharming for emerging therapeutics. The report recommends the creation of a view of what near-term success or products would look like in the area of artificial photosynthesis.

Author ITI Life Sciences
Published Year 2010
Report Type Research
  • Business infrastructure
    Supporting key sectors
  • Sectors
    Life Sciences