What traits would the “perfect plant” have? In Science’s “Sowing the Seeds for the Ideal Crop,” researchers present a wish list of crop improvements needed to increase production and achieve sustainability.
Some of researchers’ “lofty goals” include restructuring root and leaf architecture to increase water use efficiency, improving the nutrient content of seeds and edible plant parts, and adding genes for toxins that will killonly pest insects.
The article also discusses technologies that can make these changes possible, such as artificial chromosomes, RNA interference, targeted gene replacement and robotics. While these techniques are still being developed and refined, it is clear to scientists that they are part of the solution to providing more food for the world.
Science also provides further insight into how to feed the world’s growing population with their video, “Feeding the Future.”
Andrew Revkin, science reporter from the New York Times Dot Earth Blog shared in his blog post “A Menu feeding 9 Billion” that Science Magazine, the premier national academic science journal, removed the pay wall from the report “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.” According to Revkin, the paper discusses the difficulty of feeding a growing population with current agricultural practices, but “expresses optimism that a sustained focus on efficiency, technology and policy innovations can do the trick.”
The authors of the report prepared a chart with examples of possible strategic traits that could be engineered in specific crops, helping farmers produce significant crop yields even in marginal circumstances. Examples of traits include: salinity tolerance and increased nitrogen-use efficiency.
The paper stresses “that technology alone is far from sufficient if policies are not shifted to advance the appropriate use of the right agricultural strategy or tool in the right place.” Therefore, the authors also point to areas such as aquaculture and food waste management as tools that can increase sustainable production limits.
The authors of this analysis believe that the complex regulatory structure for GM crops needs to be simplified so more resources are allocated towards GM crop development. They believe that these efforts, along with improved aquaculture practices, will help us improve food security worldwide and combat the effects of a changing climate. The authors of this report conclude by saying, “But if we are to resume progress towards eliminating hunger, we must scale up and further build on the innovative approaches already under development, and we must do so immediately.”
The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative - a program of the National Academies of Science, is awarding four $20,000 prizes in 2010 to individuals or teams who have “developed creative, original works that address issues and advances in science, engineering and/or medicine for the general public.”
Nominations are currently being accepted in four categories: book, magazine/newspaper, film/radio/TV and online. Winners will be notified in Fall 2010.
If you know of a worthy individual or team you can nominate them using the online nomination form. You can learn more about the award and the selection criteria here.
George McGovern, former senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic Nominee for Vice President, and Marshall Matz, former counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, wrote an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee about US agriculture policy and the challenge of ending hunger worldwide. Mr. McGovern and Mr. Matz ask for a more respectful discussion about agriculture that does not pit one side against the other, but instead values science and recognizes the important contributions of farmers.
They write that while most Americans give little thought to agriculture policy and food production, there is a real food shortage in many developing countries and millions of children go to school hungry everyday. They argue that the world can meet the challenge of increasing food production only if all available tools, including science, are utilized and people learn more about food production and what it takes to feed the world.