Biotech Updates

Speed Breeding and Genome Editing to Feed 10 Billion

June 20, 2019

Speed breeding, together with other state-of-the art technologies such as gene editing, is the best way to develop a pipeline of new crops. This is according to an article in Nature Biotechnology authored by geneticists from the University of Queensland, Australia.

"We face a grand challenge in terms of feeding the world. If you look at the stats, we're going to have about 10 billion on the planet by 2050 and we're going to need 60 to 80 percent more food to feed everybody. It's an even greater challenge in the face of climate change and diseases that affect our crops that are also rapidly evolving," said lead author, Dr. Lee Hickey.

Traditional plant breeding, however, is a slow process. Inspired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s study on how to grow food on space stations, Dr. Hickey and team control light and temperature to send plant growth into overdrive. In their Nature article released in November 2018, they reported that they can grow up to six generations of wheat, barley, chickpeas, and canola in a year, while traditional techniques only enable 1-2 generations for that span of time.

In their latest article, Dr. Hickey reported the potential of speed breeding, as well as other techniques that may significantly contribute to food security. They have integrated new genetic techniques to optimize flowering times and make plants more resistant to the effects of climate change. For instance, they are currently working on using the CRISPR system to modify plants' genes while simultaneously speed breeding them.

One of the future plans of the team is to train plant breeders in India, Zimbabwe, and Mali in partnership with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Read about the benefits of speed breeding in Nature Biotechnology, Hickey Lab, The New York Times, and TEDx.