Making its way to agriculture, scientists have used technology to create gigantic plants with the help of gene-hacking. Researchers from the University of Illinois have gene-hacked plants in order to make them enormous, an application that can greatly increase food yields and hence reduce global hunger.
The researchers added new DNA instructions to tobacco plants in order to coax them to grow larger in response to light. These changes led to yield increases of up to 40%.
The process used, called ‘photorespiratory bypass’, is a cassette of genetic alterations that let the plants turn sunshine into energy more effectively. The genetically customized plants were taller and heavier than the regular ones. “I was skeptical the entire way, but you can really see the difference,” once of the researchers, Paul South.
The researchers now aim to make similar changes to the genetic code of other crops, including potatoes, soybeans and cowpeas. However, it could take decades before regulatory authorities give green light to large plants for human consumption.
Moreover, their gene-hacking technique also grabbed attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed around $80 million to the research in order to help the technology improve global food security.
“By 2050, we’re pretty certain that we have to increase crops yields by anywhere from 25%-70% to feed all the hungry people in the world. We don’t have another obvious way to increase yield other than taking a genetic engineering approach,” said co-author Amanda Cavanagh.