Climate change: gene editing can help create resilient cultures

Experts say greater access to gene editing can help create resilient crops that respond appropriately to climate change.

Some experts in the agricultural sector are advocating for greater access to improved technologies such as gene editing in agricultural production. They say it can help create resilient cultures to respond to the negative impact of climate change on agricultural production, especially in countries in the Global South.

“Pests and diseases have increased dramatically in rice fields and other farms due to climate change. We need to see if CRISPR gene editing and other technologies can help solve this problem. Locally led institutes must be empowered to lead the process,” says Arif Hossain, Managing Director of Farming Future Bangladesh.

“Climate change is having a negative impact on rice production in Bangladesh. We have a vaccine against Covid but there is no vaccine against climate change. To ensure climate-resilient rice, we need to provide science-based information to decision makers,” he adds.

Hossain was speaking during one of the 2022 Borlaug dialogues at the World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa. The panel discussion was on the theme; “Don’t Skip the Rice: Adapting to the Climate Crisis.”

Rice is a staple food for over 3.5 billion people around the world, especially in Asia and Africa. It grows best in warm, humid climates, where soils are waterlogged. But the culture is very vulnerable to climate change. Hotter weather, more frequent flooding, rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion due to climate change are negatively impacting rice productivity worldwide.

A 2018 study by Chinese, Pakistani and Saudi scientists predicted that the increase in the frequency of higher temperatures in rice-growing regions will lead to a 40% reduction in crop yields by the end of the 21st Century.

Jocelyn Brown Hall, Director of the North America Region of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, told the session that rice is an important crop that should be improved for the benefit of the world’s population in the context of climate change.

“We cannot live in a world without rice. We need rice. So we really need to accelerate technologies to help smallholder farmers grow rice. And make sure the technologies don’t run into challenges with various protocols and to feed a hungry world by 2050 we need to increase rice production by 15%, so work with various stakeholders to develop resilient rice to the climate is paramount,” she added.

Dr David Savage, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says technology applications must be prioritized if crops like rice can be improved to meet the challenges of climate change.

He pointed out that to develop climate-smart crops, access to technology is extremely important. Advanced technologies such as genome editing, machine learning and artificial intelligence can help accelerate the pace of rice research and data analysis.”

Gene editing, also known as genome editing, is a group of technologies that gives scientists the ability to make permanent and heritable changes to specific sites in an organism’s genome. It’s cheaper, simpler, faster and more accurate than other plant breeding methods. The technology improves crop quality by imparting traits such as drought tolerance, improved nutrition, and resistance to pests and diseases.

Dr. Savage’s research uses gene editing technology, specifically CRISPR gene screens to engineer a more efficient carbon concentrating mechanism for photosynthesis in crops. This will allow farmers to reap more yield from GM crops while using less land and fewer chemical inputs, giving agriculture the tools to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

He added that “we need to encourage farmers to adopt new practices. This is important because some of these technologies that we are discussing are more complicated than traditional practices.

U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security Dr. Cary Fowler told session stakeholders that there is a need to ensure that these technological tools being transferred from the North to the South match the expectations of local communities. . “We have to work on technically and scientifically sound solutions. But which also correspond to the local context in which the communities work,” he said.

Dr. Naseef Meah, who is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Regional Representative for South Asia, agrees that local context is crucial in encouraging technology adoption.

“At IRRI, we tested 36 climate-resistant rice varieties in various parts of Asia and Africa. We develop technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from rice production. You will need a good understanding of the local political economy to accelerate farmer adoption of the technology,” he said.


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Norma A. Roth