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Our Expert Voices conversation on food security.

A new seed variety with traits that farmers and consumers value (flavor, nutrition, and tolerance to pests, diseases, and environmental stress) can be transformative.

The tools:

  • Assisted breeding analyzes the DNA of plants to identify those that carry the optimal combination of genes encoding desirable traits. Example: a new rice variety was generated that can better tolerate floods — a key advance in India and Bangladesh where enough rice to feed 30 million people is lost to flooding.
  • Genetic engineering, which introduces genes from one species into another, has been used to create papaya plants that resist infection by a devastating virus, increasing yield, and eggplants that are resistant to caterpillars, eliminating the need for chemical sprays.
  • Genome editing allows us to make genetic changes in specific DNA sequences - without introducing "foreign" DNA. We've created mushrooms that do not brown and corn plants that are super sweet. But this tool is limited and doesn't replace the others. We haven't yet been able to edit eggplant for resistance to caterpillars, for example.

The challenge: If we want to succeed in our efforts and make effective policy decisions, we need to challenge ourselves to go beyond what instinctively feels right and look at the scientific evidence.

Bottom line: The interesting question is not how a seed variety was developed; it is about how the resulting crop will enhance food security and advance sustainable agriculture.

Other voices in the conversation:

Henk Hobbelink, agronomist, GRAIN, Support small farmers

Eric Schulze, molecular biologist, Memphis Meats, Science can't be at the expense of culture

Deborah Delmer, plant biologist, Genetic modification is an important part

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.