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Cropping Hunger and Climate Change

Reengineering staples to grow in harsh conditions, feed the masses, and saving the planet. Sometime in the next...

Reengineering staples to grow in harsh conditions, feed the masses, and saving the planet.Sometime in the next decade, farmers in poor communities could get a competitive advantage in plying their trade. A Davis, California-based biotech called Arcadia Biosciences is looking to arm crop producers everywhere from the United States, Europe, Africa, India, and China with commercial seeds that they've reinvented to flourish in otherwise inhospitable environments. Think salt tolerant plants that improve crop yields in drought-prone conditions.Founded in 2002, Arcadia's goal is to develop advanced new varieties of crops that will benefit not only human health but also the environment. In perhaps its biggest success to date, according to an Arcadia spokesperson, scientists at the company transferred a particular gene found in barley into other plants to make them twice as efficient at absorbing nitrogen. Using these genetically modified crops would allow farmers to grow twice as much food for the same financial investment-and without increasing the burden on the environment. "That's a big deal to farmers," says Eric Rey, Arcadia's president and CEO. "That provides the economic incentive to do something that ends up resulting in a huge environmental benefit."What environmental benefit? Nitrogen fertilizer is the gasoline of the agriculture industry: The nitrous oxide that fertilized soil emits is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Reducing by half the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required by the world's six most common crops-wheat, rice, corn, oilseeds, barley, cotton-would be the equivalent to pulling every automobile in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany off the road. So, Arcadia Biosciences could reduce environmental damage-and keep people fed-by redesigning crops instead of cars. "Agriculture," says Rey, "gets overlooked quite a bit as a place where changes can happen."Photo by Meena Kadri (via Flickr)Return to interactive site

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