During a GEN Live program in July, three experts from “Big Ag” and plant biotech startups discussed the impact of new technologies for safeguarding the world’s food supply, the current state of GMO regulations, and new applications of plant genome editing, including its ability to address climate change. A few of their comments on this latter topic are printed here. You can view the entire GEN Live Agbiotech program.

Wendy Srnic, PhD

Wendy Srnic PhD
Wendy Srnic, PhD
Seed Business Platform, R&D Leader, Corteva

When you look at the macro trends that are going to affect the globe over the next 20 to 30 years, you can see that climate change and population growth are most likely going to occur together. Both trends involve agriculture. Population growth will bring food production challenges, including the need to sustain diets consistent with good health. As a result, there will be increased demand for protein, whether it’s traditional animal- or plant-based protein.

CRISPR is transformational because it enables you to make changes in crop genomes like the changes seen in nature, but it lets you use a more strategic approach to reach your goals. Gene editing applications may help us overcome many challenges in agriculture.

With respect to climate change, we’ve already started to see water become less abundant in some areas and more abundant in others. With respect to technology, especially CRISPR, the issues are: How can we be more efficient with nitrogen and water use? How can we accelerate the pace of genetic gain or improvement for crops across the board? We can use a new technology that integrates the knowledge of the genomes that we already have, and that does so in a way that helps us evolve the genomes. Even better, we can emulate the evolution we see in nature while working at a much faster pace.

Jack Wang, PhD

Jack Wang PhD
Jack Wang, PhD
Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, Co-Founder, TreeCo

If we are talking about climate change, then we cannot be too far from forestry applications, which affect the largest and most abundant biomass on the terrestrial biosphere, or from the replacement of all petroleum-based products. Forests and fuels are key areas that science and innovation should address in the coming years.

Forests sequester 57% of all the biogenic carbon on earth. If forests could be expanded or improved via the introduction of plants with variant or enhanced genotypes, it would be possible to enhance to sequestration of carbon and to minimize the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. Doing so would have tremendous and everlasting effects on climate change mitigation. From this perspective, it is clear how CRISPR technologies could tackle climate change.

Chloe Pavely

Chloe Pavley
Chloe Pavely
Global Regulatory Director, Calyxt

We are a plant-based biotechnology platform company focused on delivering disruptive innovations that can revolutionize how the world uses plants. We have our advanced TALEN gene editing biotechnology platform to develop sustainable products and technologies that we could then offer to our customers and partners.

We’re doing exciting work in the hemp space. Hemp has the potential to offer products such as proteins, nutraceuticals, fibers, or even some advanced materials for construction. However, hemp today is like corn was a hundred years ago. Hemp is basically an undomesticated crop with open pollinated varieties, uncharacterized heterosis, and limited pedigree information.

In April, we announced that we were able to successfully transform the hemp genome. We are also developing a seedless hemp, which is basically a triploid hemp. This all represents a step change in the innovation approaches for the species and has many solutions that can address several of the climate change challenges that we’re facing.

[Editor’s Note: The YEARS Project, a nonprofit organization, states, “One acre of hemp can remove 10 tons of carbon from the air—more than the average home emits in a year. Not only is growing hemp good for the planet, but it can be used in some of our most carbon-intensive industries like construction, where ‘hempcrete’ can replace concrete as a carbon-negative solution.”]