GM as a route for delivery of sustainable crop protection

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Abstract or Summary

Modern agriculture, with its vast monocultures of lush fertilized crops, provides an ideal environment for adapted pests, weeds, and diseases. This vulnerability has implications for food security: when new pesticide-resistant pest biotypes evolve they can devastate crops. Even with existing crop protection measures, approximately one-third yield losses occur globally. Given the projected increase in demand for food (70% by 2050 according to the UN), sustainable ways of preventing these losses are needed. Development of resistant crop cultivars can make an important contribution. However, traditional crop breeding programmes are limited by the time taken to move resistance traits into elite crop genetic backgrounds and the limited gene pools in which to search for novel resistance. Furthermore, resistance based on single genes does not protect against the full spectrum of pests, weeds, and diseases, and is more likely to break down as pests evolve counter-resistance. Although not necessarily a panacea, GM (genetic modification) techniques greatly facilitate transfer of genes and thus provide a route to overcome these constraints. Effective resistance traits can be precisely and conveniently moved into mainstream crop cultivars. Resistance genes can be stacked to make it harder for pests to evolve counter-resistance and to provide multiple resistances to different attackers. GM-based crop protection could substantially reduce the need for farmers to apply pesticides to their crops and would make agricultural production more efficient in terms of resources used (land, energy, water). These benefits merit consideration by environmentalists willing to keep an open mind on the GM debate.


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