Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Editing the genes of plants and animals could help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and other sectors, according to a report highlighting the possible uses of the technology.
Why it matters: For too long the potential of biotechnology to address climate change has taken a back seat to engineering, chemistry and energy. But new advances in gene editing could make farming more efficient and take carbon out of the atmosphere.
By the numbers: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank for science and technology policy, concludes in a recent report that gene-editing technologies like CRISPR could lead to a 50% improvement in agricultural productivity by 2050.
- Some of those productivity benefits could come from reducing food waste — which produces as much as 1.9 billion tons of CO2 equivalent each year — by genetically engineering plants to last longer.
- Gene editing and selective breeding could reduce emissions from ruminant animals like cattle, which amount to perhaps 2.86 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
- By gene editing plants to improve their use of photosynthesis, they could become much more effective at capturing and sequestering carbon from the air.
Context: The ITIF argues the federal government will need to reduce regulatory burdens on gene-edited products, increase investment in R&D, and provide incentives for the adoption of gene-edited technologies.
- Yes, but: That will require overcoming concerns about the safety and sustainability of genetically engineered crops, though there is some evidence to suggest that the public may be more open to gene-editing tools like CRISPR.
The bottom line: Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases, and tools like CRISPR — properly regulated — will likely need to play a part in creating more sustainable plants.