Archive for 'science'

Priming plants for natural disease control

Can we tap into ecological defences to better protect crops? The University of Sheffield’s Will Buswell reports.

Will Buswell

Crop pathogens are a substantial drain on world food production. Annually, an estimated 20% of global yields are lost to disease, but this figure belies far greater losses for specific food systems and the people whose stable existence is dependent upon them, particularly in developing countries.

For instance, rice is the staple crop for over half of the world’s population, yet almost 40% of yield is lost to disease each year.
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Game-changing technologies in agriculture

What innovations really have the potential to transform the food-producing landscape? Head of the Global Food Security programme Riaz Bhunnoo takes a whistle-stop tour.

Riaz Bhunnoo

In just a 35 year period the Earth is being tasked with producing more food than it has in the last 2000 years combined. We either need to find very clever ways of sustainably producing more on the same area of land, or we need to demand less. In reality we need to do both, and cutting-edge technologies will have a key role to play.
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Antimicrobials in agriculture

As a new report is published, BBSRC’s Adam Staines discusses the complex issues surrounding antibiotic use in the food chain.

Adam Staines

Despite lots of wider media coverage in the last year on antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance many people are still asking basic questions about what resistance is, what is resistant to what, and why should I really care?

Any societal complacency over the importance of antimicrobial drugs is actually a testament to their success. Many of the diseases that ravaged us and our livestock industries for centuries until Alexander Fleming and penicillin came along have been so successfully controlled we no longer fear them, or even recognise the names. (The leading causes of human death in 1900 were bacterial infections causing pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and enteritis.)
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How has the GFS programme made a difference?

What have we achieved so far? Head of the Global Food Security programme Riaz Bhunnoo takes stock of work to date.

Riaz Bhunnoo

As Charles Darwin reportedly once said, “in the history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”. Even if he didn’t actually say it, collaboration is essential to meet the food security challenge, and it is therefore a central pillar of the Global Food Security (GFS) programme. So what has GFS achieved to date?

To answer this question, we need to think about what GFS was set up to do – in brief, improve coordination and collaboration on food security research across the public sector.
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Building better crops from the bottom up

Synthetic biology can help us to secure a sustainable food supply. Huw Jones of Rothamsted Research explains all.

Huw Jones

In the same way that Alec Issigonis first conceptualised, drew and then built the iconic Mini, I predict it will not be long before crop plants are designed and built, bottom up, using the principles of synthetic biology.

Plant breeding using classical, top-down or forward genetic approaches has served us well in the millennia since people settled in agricultural communities and started crossing plants, selecting individuals with traits that made farming easier and the edible parts more nutritious.
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What if we grew GM crops in Britain?

It’s time to re-evaluate the impacts of the potential cultivation of GM crops in UK agriculture, says policy researcher at ADAS Carla Turner.

Carla Turner

Genetic modification (GM) in crops has been on the political agenda since their emergence in the 1980s and the first commercially available GM crop approved for cultivation in 1994.

Within the European Union (EU) there has been a precautionary approach to the commercial cultivation of GM crops with stringent approvals legislation.
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Don’t blame it on the weatherman

What can seasonal forecasts bring to agriculture and food security? Pete Falloon of the Met Office predicts progress.

Pete Falloon

They say it often pays to look ahead. Farmers have been doing just that for thousands of years, searching for the signals or patterns that might tell them the best time to sow seeds, or seek shelter for their animals.

Here in the 21st century, our desire to predict the weather is no less diminished. Now we are developing the tools, technology and models to make better predictions, not just a few days ahead, but to cover whole growing seasons and climactic events.
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Making sustainable connections

Agricultural scientist Andy Whitmore from Rothamsted Research introduces a new network for scientists working on sustainable intensification.

Andy Whitmore

The sustainable, secure and resilient production of food to feed our growing population in the face of environmental change is one of the most pressing problems of our age. And in keeping with other major scientific endeavours such as the search for the Higg’s Boson or deciphering the human genome, it requires a huge, concerted effort from the world’s scientists.

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A major new report spells out what science can, and can’t, do to help provide nutritious food for all. Co-author and GFS Champion Tim Benton provides an inside eye on the Milan Expo 2015.

Tim Benton

The first ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’ famously took place at Crystal Palace in 1851. It spawned a regular series, of which the 99th Universal Exposition will take place in 2015 in Milan, Italy, on the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life
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Why a mother’s nutrition is so important

Diet before conception affects a baby’s genes. Paula Dominguez-Salas from the MRC International Nutrition Group reports from the field.

Paula Dominguez-Salas

In recent years evidence has been accumulating that nutrition during pregnancy can have a profound effect on the offspring. Our group, the MRC International Nutrition Group, works in maternal and child nutrition and is particularly interested in this ‘fetal programming’ idea, because a child’s health (and possibly even its children) could be effected throughout its whole life – not just its early years.
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