(Part of the “Don’t Fear Science in Your Food” Series)
Between a growing population, shifting climate and dwindling resources, it’s no secret that our planet is in the midst of multiple environmental crises. And people across the globe are responding to these looming concerns, embracing the fact that we must “trust the science” and change the destructive, unsustainable habits our society has grown into.
But only to a certain extent.
While the public has been accepting of certain technologies that make our daily practices more environmentally friendly—such as for climate change—the public hasn’t been very accepting of technology that makes our food more environmentally friendly. In the US, based on a 2014 study by the USDA, food production accounts for about 2% of our energy use, and it’s one of the largest consumers of energy across the globe. Using science to develop food that’s heartier, more nutritious, more sustainable and disease-resistant is a reality we will all have to face—and it’s really not as scary as you may think.
There’s a lot of science in our food already. Take selective breeding, for example: a practice that farmers have been honing for millennia. By selecting and breeding the plant species with the most desirable traits—such as size or flavor—agriculture has changed dramatically over the course of history. Corn is barely recognizable from what it once was, and vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower all belong to the same plant species, Brassica oleracea.
With gene editing technologies, including CRISPR approaches and our gene repair oligonucleotide (GRON), there are a number of solutions that add diversity to provide starting points for the selective breeding process that farmers and breeders use, speeding it up from hundreds or thousands of years to less than a decade. By selecting the traits that are more desirable, these approaches can help make agriculture more sustainable for our planet’s growing population.
We must “trust the science” for all of the environmental crises on the horizon—including the food we grow, cultivate and eat.