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Standing water surrounds corn plants. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A leading synthetic biology company is using bioengineering to try to create more resilient crops.

Why it matters: Extreme weather and a 7.8 billion-and-growing global population are ratcheting up pressure on an already fragile food system — and the environments that support it.

The big picture: Researchers are using synthetic biology to tackle a range of problems in agriculture — from reducing synthetic fertilizer use to improving the nutritional value of crop plants.

  • An estimated 20–40% of crops are lost to pests around the world each year, costing the global economy about $290 billion, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • More than 550 insect species are resistant to pesticides, and it costs an estimated $300 million "to bring an insecticide from molecule to market, and about eight to 10 years,” Bruce Steward of insecticide and chemical company FMC recently told Hoosier Ag Today.

What's next: Ginkgo Bioworks and Corteva Agriscience announced a two-year research agreement to use the tools of synthetic biology to try to speed the discovery — and lower the cost — of natural compounds for more sustainable, effective and specific insecticides, pesticides and fungicides.

  • Ginkgo will use its cell engineering platform and library of DNA sequences to identify, improve and produce different enzymes and natural compounds that Corteva will then test in greenhouse trials.
  • "Nature has solutions for farmers to address food loss and crop protection, and it is a matter of harvesting those," says Jennifer Wipf, senior vice president of commercial cell engineering at Ginkgo.
  • Ginkgo hopes to speed the process, but regulatory challenges will be part of the development, says Kevin Madden, senior vice president of platform commercialization at the company.

Go deeper: Watch Axios' new video about how synthetic biology is changing what we eat — and more.

Go deeper

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

6 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.