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Dramatic changes in agriculture needed as world warms and grows, researchers say
Date:2/11/2010

The looming threats of global climate change and population growth call for sweeping changes in how the world produces its food and fiber, warns a group of prestigious scientists, including an expert in plant genetics at the University of California, Davis.

The research team, led by Nina Federoff, science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggests that there is a "critical need to get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology," as well as explore the potential of aquaculture and maximize agricultural production in dry and saline areas. Their recommendations will appear as a perspective piece titled "Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century" in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science.

The researchers note that the impacts of climate change on agriculture and human health are already apparent. They point to the 2003 heat wave in Europe, which caused just a 3.5-degree rise in the average summer temperature, but killed 30,000 to 50,000 people. Gaining much less attention was the resulting 20 percent to 36 percent decrease in the yields of grains and fruit that summer.

"That dramatic drop in yield is just a foreshadowing of the challenges that lie ahead for agriculture during the 21st century, as temperatures rise and another 3 billion people are added to the global population," said UC Davis plant pathologist Pamela Ronald, a co-author on the perspective piece. Ronald and her laboratory are working on developing a new generation of crops that can better resist diseases and tolerate environmental stresses, including flooding.

"Global warming will alter the pattern of diseases among crops and also cause intense, periodic flooding," Ronald said. "The good news is that we have the ability, through conventional breeding and genetic engineering, to generate new varieties of our existing food crops that can better adapt to these environmental changes.


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Contact: Patricia Bailey
pjbailey@ucdavis.edu
530-752-9843
University of California - Davis
Source:Eurekalert

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