In a perspective article published in Science, an international team of
researchers argues that new plant breeding technologies - such as genome
editing - can contribute significantly to food security and sustainable
development. Also in the past, plant breeding and other agricultural
technologies played an important role for food security, but the resulting
high intensity in the use of agrochemicals has caused serious environmental
problems as well. Future technologies need to reduce the environmental
footprint and make agriculture more resilient to climate stress. Predictions
suggest that small farms in Africa and Asia will suffer especially from the
effects of climate change. Genome editing can be used to make crop plants
more resistant to pests and diseases and more tolerant to drought and heat.
This can help to reduce crop losses and chemical pesticide sprays. Methods
such as CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to make precise point mutations without
introducing foreign genes. Due to their low costs, these methods can also be
employed in previously neglected crops, such as pulses and local vegetables.
In the article, the authors show which concrete genome-edited crops could
become available within the next five years. But they stress that
international cooperation, public support, and efficient science-based
regulation will be important to ensure that the poorest countries and the
poorest farmers can also benefit.