The world is getting warmer and the population is growing exponentially. The United Nations predicts that the world’s population will increase by more than 2 billion by 2050, drastically driving up our demand for food. And this challenge will only be compounded by global warming. Thanks to biotechnology, primarily genetic modification and gene editing, however, the future may not be so grim.
As Kevin Doxzen, a science communicator at the Innovative Genomics Institute, writes in a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, genetic modification can help maintain our food supply in the wake of shifting climates:
The California drought of recent years has shown us the precious value of water, which can disappear as quickly as it can arrive. Several varieties of GMO crops can not only survive but also thrive in dry areas — helping to reduce irrigation and water use. On the opposite end of the spectrum, researchers have engineered rice that can grow in overly flooded rice paddy fields, a common occurrence in Asia. As our climate changes, monsoons are intensifying and droughts are lasting longer. Under these dire circumstances, genetically modified agriculture provides an avenue to feed Earth’s 7.6 billion people in both developing and industrialized nations.
And as climates change, farmers will be forced to move their farms, creating another challenge that can be stifled by GM crops (italics added):
As the planet warms, land suitable for agriculture slowly migrates north in latitude and higher in elevation. When farmers plant their crops at these higher altitudes, where the air is cooler and more humid, crops can encounter new species of bacteria, fungus and insects. In pursuit of sustainability, genetically modified crops (i.e. disease resistance, insect resistance) can boost the environment by minimizing crop devastation from pests and thus reducing food waste.
In looking to the future, Doxzen explains how scientists are using biotechnology to increase yields to create a more stable food supply:
By altering only one sequence of DNA, researchers in New York developed tomato plants that sprouted additional branches, leading to more tomatoes. By altering only one additional sequence of DNA, tomatoes stayed on the branch longer without prematurely falling off. These two changes help farmers improve their yield and revenue by harvesting more tomatoes per acre of land and by collecting them all at once so a fraction of the crop isn’t left to decay on the ground.
If we are to feed the world’s population by 2050, in the midst of a warming world, we must continue to harness agricultural innovation. We can’t rely on only one form of farming to do so. We must explore all options, especially GM crops.
Read the full piece here.