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New generation of GM crops could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than grounding all the aircraft in the world

Publication date:
P. Aldhous
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There is a growing realisation that climate change will present a serious challenge for farmers – and that could mean big profits for companies that can help them adapt to environmental stress. This article examines the new generation of genetically modified (GM) crops which are emerging in response to a changing climate.
Points made include:

the first of this new generation of GM crops will be varieties of maize which can survive periods of drought. The first commercial varieties could become available soon after 2010 and drought-tolerant versions of other plants are not far behind.
as sea levels continue to rise and contaminate agricultural land, salinity is already a huge problem worldwide. As such, the author asserts, salt-tolerance is another trait in the researchers' sights.
nitrogen fertiliser, used in commercial farming, releases nitrogen oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere – contributing more to global warming than all the world's cars, ships, planes and trains combined. As such, scientists argue that the solution comes in the form of crops genetically modified to require less fertiliser.

However, whilst the benefits of GM crops could be considerable, the author asserts that the risks could be great too, for instance:

Gene flow is inevitable – concerns are growing, especially surrounding rice, the staple for almost half of the world's population, as weedy relatives grow throughout its global range and some flow of genes to these weeds is almost guaranteed.

The article concludes by noting that the first generation of GM crops was created by a “one size fits all” approach with biologists taking a single gene and sticking it in whatever plant they wanted to alter. However, when it comes to dealing with drought, the author asserts that this crude approach won't do. Given that the new generation of GM crops is far more sophisticated, the article concludes by asking: will the benefits associated with such crops be enough to trump the concerns?