Crucial role of crop genetic improvement highlighted in Guardian leader

22 Jul 2010

Reflecting the renewed significance placed on the conservation and improvement of plant genetic resources, a UK national newspaper this week devoted an entire leading article to the food security risks posed by a new plant pathogen. In a powerful leader, the Guardian points to the potentially devastating effects on food supplies of a new wheat stem rust – known as Ug99 – which has recently spread to southern Africa’s wheat crop. It says this should serve as a reminder that with 800 million people around the world undernourished and more than 2 billion living on less than $2 per day, continued investment is required in both applied crop science and the basic research which underpins its effective exploitation:

“The reason there has been no Malthusian crisis so far is that as the population doubled, agricultural science tripled crop yields. Ominously, although yields are still increasing, the rate of increase has for three decades been slowing down. Improvements will require investment not just in crop research, but in plant science as a whole. Researchers must understand not just the ideal conditions for experimental wheat, but the natural ecosystems in which rusts, blight, mildew and other pests flourish; they need to understand not just the molecular biology of rice but the evolutionary origins of all the grasses, and the mechanisms that produce genes for drought tolerance, or pest resistance, or high yield and so on.”

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