Aug 20, 2019 | Updated: 11:45 AM EDT

Crop Breeding Speed Heightened To Feed The Future

Jul 18, 2019 08:53 AM EDT

(Photo : LubosHouska)

Farmers -- the breeders of food -- are in a race with time. The populations all over the world are growing too fast that more people need more food. However, the land area that can be cultivated to grow food has become limited due to land conversion for industrialization. And then there is also a problem with drought and flooding. Some areas can't grow their usual crops because they don't have enough rainwater to sustain it while other areas have experienced their crops getting destroyed by the flood.

"We are facing a challenge of feeding the world," said Lee Hickey, a plant geneticist from the University of Queensland in Australia. '"If we look at the statistics, by 2050, the planet will have about 10 billion people which means we need at least 60 to 80 more food than what we produce today to provide food for everyone." This quest becomes an even greater challenge as the world battles with climate change. "The diseases that affect the growth of the crops are evolving rapidly and if we can't keep up with it, food shortage will eventually be a problem."

Plant breeding has always been part of the solution to address the problem of food shortage. However, the process of plant breeding has always been a rather slow one. The development of new crops that are more nutritious, disease and drought-resistant, higher yields usually take more time. But plant breeders are looking into ways to hasten the process.

Dr Hickey is part of the team working on the project of "speed breeding." They are ensuring that the plants are receiving the right about of sunlight, growing at the right temperature and conditions to enable the team to start growing crops at a faster pace. The technique they are using was inspired by how NASA grow their crops while in the space station. The crops are tricked into flowering faster by exposing them under the blasting red and blue led lights for 22 hours a day at a 62-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

They revealed all of these in an article published in the journal Nature. They also showed how they could grow barley, chickpeas and canola within a year. Compared to traditional methods where growing these crops take one at a time.

In Nature Biotechnology, the team of Dr. Hickey highlighted the possibility of speed breeding and the techniques that can be used to make food yields more sustainable. According to the research they released, speed breeding can only be made possible with the use of state-of-the-art technology like gene editing is a way of yielding more crops at the shortest possible time.

"What we should seriously consider doing is building plant factories on a massive scale," said Dr. Hickey. "We want to make sure we have more than enough food for generations to come."

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