Genetic modification of plants will be essential to avert future food shortages, according to a group of agricultural scientists who have reviewed how biotechnology developments over the past 35 years have shaped the efficiency of crop production.
The team, from Rothamsted Research in the UK and Syngenta Crop Science and Symmetry Bioanalytics in the US, present their review as an online opinion article in ‘Trends in Plant Science’.
GM crops able to repel insect pests or to resist herbicides have transformed the farming of soybean, cotton, maize and canola, reducing costs and increasing productivity, but lack of knowledge hinders further improvements in yield, particularly in testing climatic conditions, says the group.
Scientists have identified some genes that affect crop yields, such as those influencing grain size and leaf growth, but have still to fully understand the cellular and developmental processes, and how these processes behave in a field environment.
Matthew Paul, plant biochemist at Rothamsted and leader of the review team, says: “Our knowledge of the genes that limit yield in field conditions needs to be developed. At the moment, results that show promise in the lab don’t always work in the field.
“We are emphasising the great potential of GM and of genome editing and emerging chemical technologies as well, but in a sense the potential of the technologies on offer is running ahead of our ability to deploy them because we still don’t know enough about the many processes and genes that determine yields.”