6 months ago
Food security is a major issue in both wealthy and resource limited areas. According to the United Nations, food security exists when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” A pared down version could be: food security exists when people have enough nutritious food to lead healthy lives.
Unfortunately, many people throughout the world suffer from food insecurity. Over 800 million people in the world are undernourished according to the United Nations. Indeed, even in the US, the USDA estimates that about 12% of US households are food insecure.
At Mammoth, we believe CRISPR diagnostics can help solve the problem of food insecurity in three ways:
- By diagnosing the causes of agricultural problems
- By helping farmers produce more food in a changing climate
- By democratizing access to genomics technologies
Diagnosing the causes of agricultural problems
Like us, plants get sick. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi all cause plant diseases. In addition, insect pests and weeds can sap the life from crops on farms. These all lead to devastating problems for farmers trying to feed the world. Such agricultural problems are estimated to cost us many billions of dollars each year.
As in human healthcare, researchers can use CRISPR diagnostics to identify the causes of plant disease. Thus farmers can apply the proper solutions to improve their yields.
For example, CRISPR diagnostics might identify insecticide resistance genes in plant pests. Thus farmers will know which insecticides will and will not work on these pests. They won’t waste time and money using insecticides that don’t work. Instead they’ll get rid of the pests quickly and save their crops. As a result the cost of farming should decrease and the food supply should increase.
Helping farmers produce more food in a changing climate
The USDA estimates that climate change will lower crop yields by 2.5% per decade! This will exacerbate food insecurity. To withstand climate change, farmers need new crop and livestock varieties.
CRISPR diagnostics can help farmers breed crops and livestock with beneficial traits. These new varieties may survive better in changing climates. For example, they may thrive in drought, high heat, and high salinity.
Democratizing access to CRISPR technologies
Researchers have many ideas about how to breed crops to do amazing things like withstand climate change. Yet, many of the genomics technologies necessary to quickly breed crops and livestock are expensive. They also require research infrastructure and experience. These don’t always exist in resource poor regions. Thus, it’s hard for many farmers in these regions to adopt genomics technologies to combat food insecurity.
At Mammoth, we’re making our CRISPR diagnostics inexpensive and accessible. Our diagnostics will also give easy-to-interpret results. They won’t require extensive expertise to use. We hope farmers in resource-limited regions will be able to adopt them easily. Thus, they’ll be able to combine modern genetics with their local expertise and find the best ways to fight food insecurity locally.
Getting ahead of food security
Food security is a major issue in both wealthy and resource limited countries. Improved farming methods have drastically improved our ability to produce food over the last century. These have gone a long way toward enhancing food security. Yet, new approaches are necessary in a changing world. We’re excited to be a part of a new wave of biology-based solutions to this incredibly important issue!