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Home » Climate Action » Genome Editing Supports Crop Solutions to fight the climate crisis

Robert Hunter

Chief Operating Officer, Interim President & CEO, CropLife International  

The climate crisis poses an enormous challenge to agriculture; we need innovations such as genome editing that can help plants adapt to evolving environmental stresses.

Staple food crops endure extreme heat, drought and flooding while defending against pests and diseases. This is predicted to get more challenging for farmers. Only at CropLife International, we believe innovation is vital to combatting these rising challenges and ensuring sustainability in agriculture.  

Genome editing technology benefits 

In partnership with the Supporters of Agricultural Research, a new paper was recently published in which author Dr Daniel Voytas explores how genome editing technologies can support agriculture as a solution to the climate crisis. Dr Voytas presented his findings at COP27 in November, further elevating the critical role of agriculture — and agricultural innovations — in addressing the climate crisis. 

Genome editing is an emerging technology that has the potential to help plant breeders develop seed varieties that respond to and slow the pace of the changing climate. Editing makes it possible to introduce precise changes to the plant genome so that it can better adapt to the consequences of a changing climate.  

Farmers are waiting 16.5 years for critical innovations to reach them.

Dr Voytas found that, despite its relative infancy, applications of genome editing technology have already helped plants respond to the climate crisis in a myriad of ways, including:  

  • Building tolerant traits that can better respond to heat, drought and flooding. For example, scientists have identified the genes that control flooding tolerance in rice, and can now distribute this trait more broadly in a variety of crops.  
  • Increasing resistance to pests and pathogens in a fraction of the time typically required by current crossbreeding techniques.   
  • Increasing the amount of carbon a plant can sequester in the soil, which could scrub millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Improving photosynthesis to boost yields and increase drought tolerance by replicating the genes found in photosynthetically efficient crops such as maize and using them to make staple crops, like rice, similarly efficient. 
  • Accelerating the domestication of wild crops into food sources to boost food resilience. 
  • Redesigning crops to serve as more nutritious and sustainable food sources.

Faster implementation and accessibility for farmers 

These benefits will only be realised by farmers if we can scale the design of edited crops and make them accessible and applicable at the local level. Current regulatory barriers, including duplicative approval processes across countries, slow down the commercialisation of new technologies — meaning, farmers are waiting 16.5 years for critical innovations to reach them. We must streamline our existing regulatory systems and ensure innovative technologies reach farmers today. 

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