Image credit: Jim Frazier
If you think the pro-genetically-modified-foods camp is pushy now, just wait till global warming starts razing the planet's surface, creating even harsher environments for food crops.
"Trying to grow plants in Australian conditions, as in many countries around the world where the conditions are harsh, is challenging, and it is likely to get harder under the effects of climate change," said Mark Tester, a plant-genomics researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia and an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow.
Tester, who is decidedly on the side of GM foods, is working to identify genes responsible for making some plants more tolerable to hostile environments, including those afflicted by drought, salinity, and frost. The next step: moving these genes into plants for commercial production through conventional breeding and genetic-modification techniques.No doubt Tester's interest is spurred by his homeland's increasing levels of salinity, which currently affects 5.7 million hectares of Australian soil and costs an estimated $270 million annually. Australia isn't the only nation in this predicament, Tester said. "Our results in the laboratory suggest great promise for the rapid development of crops with increased salt tolerance," he added.
"Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment," he said. "There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainably and economically. Genetic modification is one of those tools."