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Agricultural biotechnology necessary for coping with climate change

Agricultural biotechnology necessary for coping with climate change

Publish date: 2014-09-15

One of the most critical global challenges that people will have to face with are future effects of climate change, which have been widely neglected for many years and are sometimes still considered as “not our problem”. Agricultural biotechnology might be an indispensable tool for coping with such changes as temperature increase or elevated concentration of carbon dioxide.

Tags: biotechnology , agriculture , gmo , climate change

Due to various novel technological solutions the development of agricultural biotechnology (also called green biotechnology) has proceeded rapidly over recent years. Currently, it is possible to improve food nutritional content and productivity, use more efficient and less harmful ways of fighting against pests and grow crops in demanding and harsh environmental conditions. The aforementioned ameliorations are usually achieved by precisely controlling the expression of particular genes in the plant. As it is a main scope of green biotechnology, it can be extremely helpful in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The elevated emission of greenhouse gases is the main reason of global temperature increase inter alia leading to glacier melting and occurrence of extreme weather conditions. The climate change together with other issues such as enlarging population density and shortage of agricultural resources are the most critical dangers for sufficient food supply. The agriculture may be negatively affected by many factors associated with alterations in climate characteristics. The most crucial ones are increases in average temperature resulting in reduced productivity; change in rainfall amounts and frequency influencing soil moisture and erosion; augmentation of CO2 atmospheric concentration and pollution levels that might lead to the development of unknown plant diseases and pests.

As it can be seen, there is an emerging need to come up with proper ways of managing with climate change. Agricultural biotechnology can be a solution. The first idea is to improve crop yield by reducing water loss and improving plant tolerance to droughts. Water shortage as a stressful condition can deplete plant’s stored energy and may end up with its damage or even death. By applying biotechnological approaches and making crops more drought-resistant, the energy reserves can be used for growth and seed production. Currently, drought-tolerant maize is going through the regulatory phase of development in the US. Other ideas of improvements against climate change encompasses development of salinity and cold tolerant crops.

There exist various novel technologies that enable the development of new crops in a shorter time than in case of plants containing transgenic DNA introduced in order to obtain desired features. These genetic techniques comprise site-directed nuclease technology, oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis, RNA interference methodologies and cisgenetic approaches. The crucial thing is that all these methods may require new regulatory thinking. The presented ideas are based on targeting particular genes with a huge precision. It significantly differs from previous approaches focusing on genome bombardment techniques that are more likely to affect plants in an unintended manner. All together it suggests that the novel technologies of plant modifications are associated with higher certainty and should be subjected to less stringent regulatory supervision.

Agriculture is considered by national climate change policies as the sector that is highly vulnerable to climate change. In 2012, approximately 40% of the world population relied on agriculture for their livelihood, which illustrates how widespread and devastating effect the climate change can have on the whole planet. Wise and safe application of green biotechnology together with other ongoing efforts may protect as against food shortage disaster. However, to make it really feasible, the global awareness of climate change is greatly needed.

Sources:

http://www.europabio.org/sites/default/files/facts/green_biotechnology_and_climate_change.pdf

http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/43/default.asp

http://www.europabio.org/sites/default/files/events/agricultural_biotech_and_climate_change_29_nre_39.pdf

Maciej Smolarz

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