Mankind has always tried to improve crop plants. First, by simply selecting plants that looked specifically healthy or strong - and by replanting the seeds from their harvest.
The discovery of the biological rules of inheritance of traits by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century then laid the foundation for real plant breeding, based on crossing and later also hybridization of plants.
Modern plant biotechnology today extends these traditional ways of plant breeding - with two very important new features.
Firstly, breeding processes often become more precise and can be conducted in a much more controlled manner. Unlike general crossing and selection breeding (which involves the crossing of the whole genome of plants and hundreds or thousands of genes), plant biotechnology allows for the targeted transfer of only one or a few desirable genes. This enables plant breeders to introduce very specific, beneficial traits into a crop - without having to cross in many other, undesirable traits in the process.
Secondly, biotechnology allows for the transfer of a greater variety of genetic information from plant to plant, even from outside its own species or crop group. With that, much more genetic material and traits become available for breeding and for the improvement of new varieties in all species.
Many of these beneficial traits in new plant varieties are important to fight new plant pests, insects, diseases or weeds. These can be devastating to crops.
With that, plant biotechnology contributes to providing sufficient and healthy feed and food supply from improved plant varieties with new genetics.