Crop Biotech Update

New Plant Breeding Technologies Designed to Help Attain Food Security

April 3, 2019

In a perspective article published in Science, an international team of researchers argues that new plant breeding technologies – such as genome editing – can contribute significantly to food security and sustainable development. Also in the past, plant breeding and other agricultural technologies played an important role for food security, but the resulting high intensity in the use of agrochemicals has caused serious environmental problems as well. Future technologies need to reduce the environmental footprint and make agriculture more resilient to climate stress. Predictions suggest that small farms in Africa and Asia will suffer especially from the effects of climate change. Genome editing can be used to make crop plants more resistant to pests and diseases and more tolerant to drought and heat. This can help to reduce crop losses and chemical pesticide sprays. Methods such as CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to make precise point mutations without introducing foreign genes. Due to their low costs, these methods can also be employed in previously neglected crops, such as pulses and local vegetables.

In the article, the authors show which concrete genome-edited crops could become available within the next five years. But they stress that international cooperation, public support, and efficient science-based regulation will be important to ensure that the poorest countries and the poorest farmers can also benefit.

Read the article in Science.