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BLOG biotech : Jan 18, 2012

Agbiotech Is Working to Help Plants Cope with Global Warming

  • John Sterling
I just returned from the 20th Annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference, which was held in San Diego. It appears to be the premier meeting covering this particular subject, as many of the scientists I spoke to told me that thousands of researchers from all over the world attend every year. As those of you familiar with GEN know, we focus on new biotherapeutic discovery, R&D, and biomanufacturing. I took off for San Diego because I thought it would be a good idea to get a sense of what’s been going on in the plant and nonhuman animal research world.

Topics ranged from the general such as ecological genomics, plant interactions with pests and pathogens, and cattle and sheep to somewhat more specialized presentations and workshops including the sugar cane genome initiative, international goat consortium meeting, banana genomics, and the buffalo project.

These and a number of other talks all sounded interesting and important to varying degrees, but what really caught my eye while looking at the program book was the Saturday session entitled “Climate Change and ICRCGC.”

Taking note of the expectation that climate change will impact agroclimatic conditions such as temperature, precipitation, soil nutrients, and a growing incidence of a variety of disease-pests, the concomitant presentations were designed to stress the need that “to combat these changed scenarios, development of climate-resilient crop varieties with growth plasticity, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, improved growth and development patterns, higher efficiency for carbon sequestration, and utilization of soil macro- and micronutrients is imperative,” as described on the conference website.

A number of the session presenters reinforced the idea that important plant genetic resources needed to be identified and then properly conserved for a climatically challenged world. Under the auspices of the International Climate-Resistant Crop Genomics Consortium (ICRCGC), the session speakers stuck to the following theme: “Genomic and transgenic techniques coupled with traditional breeding approaches must be deployed for genomic dissection of crops’ responses to climate change and their improvement with new gene combinations for more sustainable agriculture.”

Accordingly, the foci of several of these sessions included genomics and breeding of cereals for root architecture and abiotic stress tolerance, gene discovery, and prebreeding in cereals for broad resistance against insects adaptable to variable environments, molecular and genomics-assisted breeding of perennial crops for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and genomics and breeding for adaptation in rice with emphasis on submergence and salt stress.

Although I did not attend every session presentation, I saw and heard enough to conclude that research in this biotech arena needs the full financial support of public and private organizations. After all, if nothing is done from the agbiotech perspective, we might be looking at a future where some important food crops completely disappear or exhibit significantly decreased levels of production. I’m sure we can all agree that this is not the type of world we want to hand over to future generations of fellow humans.