As climate change enters uncharted territory, we will need all the skills of the past, and some of the future, to keep feeding the world.
This week, Australians in three states are cleaning up after widespread flooding inundated large areas. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has warned that the impact could still be felt by those further afield: Food prices, which are already experiencing a series of shocks this year, are likely to soar.
“There is no doubt…the impact will be in higher prices, most unfortunately at a time when inflation has already risen,” he said.
Climate change is making temperature and precipitation conditions increasingly extreme, posing a significant threat to crop productivity and to all life as we know it.
Droughts have increased by almost a third in a generation and floods have quadrupled since the 2000s. In the past few months alone, floods have hit the United States, Italy, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Pakistan. More and more dangerous storms are happening and it is expected to get worse in the future. A two degree increase in temperature has been associated with an 11% reduction in global wheat yield.
Humans have been selectively breeding crop plants to improve productivity for about 10,000 years. This has enabled the creation of crops that produce higher yields and more nutritious, higher quality food compared to wild ancestral plants. The selection of desirable plant characteristics that led to these types of improvements occurred at a time when the climate was relatively moderate and stable compared to conditions likely to prevail in agricultural areas in the future.
This generation and many generations to come will face the extraordinary challenge of having to figure out how to adapt food production systems to extreme climatic conditions, such as increasingly frequent heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. and serious.
Science and innovation can help protect food systems from catastrophic losses. Sheltered farming, where crops are grown inside giant greenhouses, is a strategy to protect food production from extreme weather conditions.
But investing in these large, expensive systems isn’t always possible, and extreme storms can destroy greenhouse facilities. Growing acreage-grown crops such as wheat and sorghum in sheltered systems would require extraordinarily large and prohibitively expensive facilities. Plants grown in the field will need to adapt to future climates.
Some plants have evolved to withstand harsh conditions like hot, dry deserts, salty oceans, and frozen environments. Plants that can withstand extreme conditions or weather events contain genetic and physiological information that indicate how plants could be engineered and tailored to better withstand extreme weather events.
Around the world, plant science research teams are working to find and describe how plant genetics and physiology influence tolerance to environmental stress. Editing crop genomes can optimize target genes to adapt crops to harsh environments.
Developing resilient and productive food crops in the face of extreme weather conditions and assessing the social license to test them requires expertise. People with these types of skills will be needed. Examples of state-of-the-art tools and techniques include genome engineering and gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9; optimize the creation of new plants using state-of-the-art regeneration techniques or nanoparticles and using sputtered RNA to influence the adaptation of field crops to stress.
The next generation of crop biotechnologists must have access to training that will enable them to develop more climate-resilient crops. Biotechnologists will need to assess how to adapt existing crops to future climates and how to build new crops designed for future climate conditions.
The demand for skilled biotechnologists is increasing as employment growth in biotechnology outpaces that of other sectors. Simple life forms have been constructed synthetically, revealing that in the future it may be possible to design and create more complex organisms, such as plants.
Plants are an essential resource. Ultimately, all forms of life depend on plants as a source of food, water, medicine, air quality and habitat, and for their positive influence on the Earth’s environment.
A modern understanding of the botanical world and working with the best available technology to improve it, in the same way humans have for generations, will be essential if we are to ensure the well-being of humans on this planet.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)