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Can we engineer crops to withstand climate change?

You may not realize it, but your day revolves around plants. It’s not just mealtime: Commercial plants are used in everything from medicine to food, paper, bioplastics, textiles, rubber and a host of other products. As global climate change intensifies, though, growing many of these plants will be a major challenge.

Massive heat waves and droughts are already posing a threat to farmers: Over the next three decades, California’s San Joaquin Valley alone could lose up to 535,000 acres of arable land as a result of dwindling water supplies.

Jennifer Brophy wants to help solve that problem, as David Levin reports in this article published by Stanford University. Brophy is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, and is working on methods she hopes will be used to alter commercial plant species so they survive harsh conditions. “Climate variables are changing more rapidly than natural selection can keep up,” she says. “If we can engineer crops that are more drought tolerant, for example, maybe we can produce the same things with fewer resources.”

Brophy is developing new genetic engineering techniques that can help plants grow in a variety of different conditions. By changing the genome of both commercial crops and soil bacteria, she thinks it may be possible to help plants survive droughts by retaining more water during a dry spell, or growing deeper roots to reach soil that hasn’t dried out yet.

Source: Stanford University. Read the full article here
Photo: iStock/studio 23

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