Gene editing can help agriculture adapt to climate change and meet United Nations Summit on Food Systems goals

gThe ene edition continues to hold great promise for developing more climate-resilient and climate-smart crops to counter the growing threat of climate change and its adverse effects on global food security, according to new research.

With its vast potential to alleviate food insecurity and improve the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, gene editing as a tool of agricultural production complements the vision of zero hunger and climate action adopted in the Goals. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

The 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, [on] September 23 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York aims to provide a platform for ambitious new actions, innovative solutions and plans to transform food systems and leverage those changes to achieve progress in all SDGs.

Recent research has identified gene editing as a progressive biotechnology tool that has revolutionized crop improvement in terms of increasing production amid rapid climate changes that are making older farming systems untenable.

But in order to take full advantage of gene editing to provide resilient crops for a rapidly changing world, the study authors recommend increased effort and investment not only in the technical aspects of the technology, but also in promoting social support among affected communities.

“Using genomics, molecular markers linked to important agronomic traits can be identified, thus helping to improve crop varieties in terms of quality production, stress tolerance and disease resistance”, note the researchers. authors of Global warming and climate change, who published the first peer-reviewed chapter of his book online. “All of these technologies will help make the world a safer food place. “

Climate change is expected to have a detrimental effect on agricultural conditions as well as soil nutrients, plant diseases and pests, the impacts being particularly felt in underdeveloped countries. These adversities require climate-resilient crop varieties with a broad spectrum and long-term tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

“Over the next decade, it is predicted that billions of people, especially in underdeveloped countries, could face a scarcity of food and water, accompanied by a high risk to life and health. health due to climate change, ”the authors write. “Developing countries are more prone to climate change because these countries lack the social, financial and technological resources, which are necessary to deal with climate change. “

Already, the adverse effects of climate change have been felt on agricultural production in many parts of the world.

The report cites India, where rice production declined by 23 percent between 2001 and 2002 due to water scarcity. In Indonesia, around 1.344 million tonnes of rice were lost due to flooding. Worse is expected, including a dramatic drop in maize production in southern Africa and a drop of up to 10 percent in staple crops in South Asia, all attributed to climate change.

Climate vagaries aside, existing systems may fall short of meeting the growing demand for food, a challenge made even worse by rapid population growth, especially among vulnerable communities.

The authors note that after more than half a century of success in ensuring food security, the “green revolution” is reaching its biological limits, as evidenced by the continued stagnation of yield increases over the past decades.

“By 2050, an additional 2.4 billion people are expected to join the population of developing countries around the world,” the report notes. “It is estimated that on a global scale by 2050, the agricultural sector must grow by 60% to meet the growing demand due to the continuous increase in human population, and this will only be possible by increasing crop productivity under climate change.

This raises the need for more definitive methods and tools that can strengthen the global food basket in an efficient and sustainable way.

After successfully deploying gene editing to modify simple traits, scientists embarked on more ambitious endeavors in search of more robust crops capable of meeting the challenges and demands of the day. Genome editing is valued for its precision and the flexibility it offers scientists to modify specific parts of the genome to achieve the desired effect.

Credit: Jackson Laboratory

On the other hand, traditional improvement of crops by genetic recombination or random mutagenesis is a tedious process that cannot keep up with the growing demand for crops, say the authors.

“Genome editing techniques, including… CRISPR / Cas, allow selective alteration of almost all sequences in the genome of cultures to generate new variation and speed up breeding efforts,” they say.

Even though farmer varieties and landraces are well adapted to current conditions and may have been used successfully as sources of adaptive genes in improving crops in their local production environments, they may lose this adaptation under changing climatic conditions. , warn the authors.

And it may not be a practical solution to introduce more suitable crop varieties from elsewhere, leaving the development of new varieties the only viable solution.

An effective adaptation strategy will need to be tailored to respond to the site-specific effects of climate change, varying in some cases even within a particular country, the authors say.

Overall, they anticipate a gradual shift from conventional breeding to selective genome editing cycles in crop improvement.

Dr Joseph Maina is a Senior Lecturer at the Macquarie University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Joseph’s ultimate goals are to understand and predict the impacts of environmental variability and change on social and ecological systems at local and global scales to support spatial planning and management.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Cornell Alliance for Science and is republished here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly

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