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Scientists Look to New Breeding Methods to Feed a Growing Population

The effects of climate change — rising temperatures, more extreme droughts and more — coupled with a growing population could lead to a global food shortage in just thirty years.

Scientists worldwide are using their growing knowledge of plant genetics and new breeding methods to develop stronger plant varieties, able to withstand these threats. At the University of Queensland in Australia, Dr. Lee Hickey and his team of plant geneticists are combining new breeding techniques to find ways to produce crops, such as barley, with greater yield, nutritional value and drought- and disease-resistance in the future. 

“We’re going to have about 10 billion on the planet by 2050 and we’re going to need 60 to 80% more food to feed everybody.”

Dr. Lee Hickey,
University of Queensland in Australia

Gene editing, a plant breeding method where scientists make tweaks to a genetic code, is just one of many new agricultural innovations needed to achieve the daunting task of feeding the future. Hickey is also looking to a new technique, known as speed breeding, to develop new varieties of plants, faster.

Speed breeding uses controlled artificial lighting and temperature to speed up plant growth and allow scientists to advance through crop generations at a speedier rate. A recent study in space using this technique was able to grow up to six generations of crops in a year, while traditional techniques were only able to go through one or two generations.

This, combined with technologies such as CRISPR, will likely enable future farmers to grow crops in time to meet needs in the very near future. 

“One technology alone is not going to solve our problems,” Dr. Hickey said. “We’re going to need all the tools in the shed.”

Read more via The New York Times