Researchers from The University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture are concerned that the worldwide adoption of biotechnology to improve crop production has stalled.
The UWA Institute of Agriculture Associate Director Professor Wallace Cowling and Adjunct Professor Ashwani Pareek from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India are members of an international group of economists, plant breeders and basic plant scientists that has proposed a roadmap for future progress on the use of biotechnology to improve food security.
The group’s opinion article ‘Gaining acceptance of novel plant breeding technologies’ was published in a special 25-year anniversary issue of Trends in Plant Science on plant breeding.
The article explained that climate change had significant and urgent risks for global food security, and that future crop production would be placed under increasing stress and reduced inputs.
Although gene editing has been proven to be a rapid and precise way to improve crop resilience, Professor Cowling said scientists were yet to convince the public of the value of adopting available plant breeding technologies.
“As scientists, we recognise the potential of new biotechnology such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to improve crop resilience to global warming and drought caused by climate change,” he said.
“Future crops must have higher and more sustainable yields across a wider range of environmental variables and use less resources, particularly water and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while having a minimal impact on the environment.”
Despite their enormous potential, new technologies have not been embraced by society and governments, and the adoption of biotechnology in crop production is stalling.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, the global adoption of biotech crops has not risen since 2017 when it reached 190 million hectares.
“Future food security depends on accelerating crop genetic improvement using all sources of valuable genes – from biotechnology or from wild relatives of crop plants,” Professor Cowling said.
“Plant genes which help us combat climate change, such as heat or drought tolerance, may be designed through biotechnology as our knowledge improves.
“Our modelling suggests that we can keep pace with climate change and improve crop yields long into the future if valuable genes for heat tolerance are integrated into optimised plant breeding schemes.”
Corresponding author Professor Christine Foyer from the University of Birmingham in the UK said plant scientists must be advocates to gain public confidence in new and emerging technologies.
“It is essential that global regulations be harmonised so that new technology may contribute to future food security,” Professor Foyer said.
The paper was authored by Professor Sven Anders from the University of Alberta in Canada, and included co-authors Dr Kapuganti Jagadis Gupta from the National Institute of Plant Genome Research in India, and Dr Sneh L Singla-Pareek from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in India.