Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Biotechnology (GMO) and research

According to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, biotechnology is: “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.” Modern biotechnology generally means modification of living organisms (plants, animals and fish) through the manipulation of genes, thus the name ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs). GMO in agriculture is still a highly contested issue. Promoters argue that it can help solve food insecurity and help mitigate climate change (e.g. by creating variations that have greater nitrogen use efficiency or increased potential for soil carbon storage). Others warn of the potentially high environmental and human risks involved, with possibly unforeseen effects on farming systems and ecosystems. They may also argue that current GMO research and development leads to crops that benefit wealthier farmers or wealthier consumers and is being undertaken by large companies who stand to profit greatly from these innovations. To date most genetic modification of foods have primarily focused on cash crops such as soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed oil.

Image: Виталий Смолыгин, Structure of DNA, Public Domain Pictures, CC0 Public Domain
8 April 2019

This perspective piece argues that new plant breeding technologies such as CRISPR-Cas could contribute to global food security and poverty reduction by increasing agricultural yields and smallholder incomes. The authors note that careful regulation, field testing and communication will be necessary for successful implementation, along with royalty-free access for smallholders.

1 April 2019

This report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies emerging scientific advances that could help to make the US food system more resilient to rapid changes and extreme conditions, as well as making agriculture more efficient and sustainable.

20 March 2019

FCRN member Pat Thomas of UK campaign group Beyond GM has helped to set up the website A Bigger Conversation, which aims to bring together experts and thinkers, including scientists, academics, farmers, breeders and grassroots leaders, from multiple disciplines and multiple sides of the debate on genetic engineering in the food system.

Image: Rory MacLeod, 195.365, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
2 October 2018

A traditional variety of corn grown by people from Sierra Mixe in southern Mexico can thrive in poor soils without needing much extra fertiliser. A group of researchers have shown that the plant is able to draw nitrogen from the air through mucus-laden aerial roots on its stems. It’s hoped that the trait can eventually be bred into commercial corn strains.

Image: Nick Saltmarsh, Pig, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
2 October 2018

Startup New Age Meats has served the world’s first lab-grown pork sausages to journalists. The fat and muscle cells were allegedly grown from pork cells extracted from a live pig - in contrast to the world’s first lab-grown burger, showcased in 2013, where the initial cell samples came from slaughtered cattle.

25 September 2018

This book, by Sheldon Krimsky, will discuss the debate surrounding genetically modified organisms, include the health, safety, environmental, and scientific concerns.

4 September 2018

The Adam Smith Institute, a UK-based free-market think tank, has published a briefing paper in which it argues in favour of lab-grown meat (also known as cultured meat). The authors say that the potentially lower land use of lab-grown meat, compared to conventional meat, could allow some farmland to be rewilded, managed in less intensive ways, or used to build more houses.

Image: Max Pixel, Forage Flight Zucchini, CC0 Public Domain
24 July 2018

An Israeli startup has raised $3 million to create a mechanical system for pollinating plants, as an alternative to relying on bees. Wild bee numbers are declining, while bees used by farmers can suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture hopes to build two separate systems: one to collect and store pollen, and another to autonomously apply the pollen to plants.

Image: axelmellin, Tomato plant food, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
24 July 2018

An article in Wired explains the implications for agriculture of the gene-editing tool Crispr, which can be used to edit the DNA of living cells at specific points in the genome. Potential applications include removing swollen joints from tomato stems, which can puncture the fruit.

9 May 2018

Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are developing edible plant cell cultures. They hope that cell cultures of plants such as cloudberry, lingonberry and strawberry could provide health benefits when the conventionally-grown berries are out-of-season or expensive to import. The researchers have experimented with blending the cells into a “jam” to release the flavour, and have designed a prototype of a bioreactor that could be used in the home.

13 January 2018

This article in Food Navigator discusses a start-up company which produces dairy proteins, from sugar and genetically modified yeast. The resulting proteins can be used in a wide range of products to replace animal-produced dairy protein, such as in chocolate, ice cream, protein shakes and yoghurt.

12 April 2017

This Data Science Insights talk hosted by Thomson Reuters sees presentations from Professor Nilay Shah from Imperial College, Judith Batchelar, Director of Brand at UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, and Derek Scuffell, Head of R&D Information Systems at Syngenta, who share insights on how their supply chains are driven by data.  They discuss how advances in genetically modified foods and in agricultural technology could help prevent food shortages and price fluctuations and help the world feed itself by 2025.

Photo: Michael Knowles, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0
16 September 2016

This report provides an update on the fields of synthetic biology and the latest breeding techniques involving molecular biology. It sees modern techniques of creating new cultivars as a continuation of selective breeding which was started by humans around 10,000 years ago.

Photo: Dick Culbert, Acrocomia aculeata, immature Grugu Nuts, Flickr, Creative commons licence 2.0
24 July 2016

The neotropical macaw palm (Acrocomia aculeata) is increasingly promoted for large-scale cultivation as a sustainable biomass feedstock in Latin America. This paper warns however that a crucial proportion of areas predicted to be suitable for cultivation are located in areas of high conservational value. The paper also points to climate change scenarios which predict a substantial reduction of suitable areas in coming years.

Photo: Sonla, Flickr, creative commons licence 2.0
8 July 2016

109 Nobel laureates have signed a sharply worded letter to Greenpeace urging the environmental group to rethink its longstanding opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The signatories include past winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine, chemistry, physics, and economics.

(Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government, Flickr creative commons licence 2.0)(Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government, Flickr creative commons licence 2.0)
7 July 2016

As the climate changes, and food demand increases, crop varieties suited to these conditions need to be developed. The authors of this paper warn that crops yields around the world could fall within a decade unless action is taken to speed up the introduction of new varieties. They propose three ways to improve matching of maize varieties in Africa to a warmed climate: reduce the BDA (the process of breeding, delivery and adoption), breed under elevated temperatures and act to mitigate climate change.

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