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