Farm Sense: Biology Breakthroughs Exploding

In The Country 05-18
Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientist of Future Meat Technologies, holds laboratory-grown fat samples in his lab in Jerusalem May 2, 2018.
( REUTERS/Ammar Awad )

COMMENTARY: There's no more dire story in agriculture than the fight against citrus greening in Florida. Once the nation's largest citrus industry, the state has seen production fall by more than 70 percent. Millions of dollars in research money has been spent looking for a solution and just last month a report came out saying -- a silver bullet cure is extremely unlikely. Well, today there's hope. USDA is releasing the review of a genetically engineered virus that fights the greening disease. APHIS says its modified to produce proteins from spinach helping to prevent greening and the virus won't harm the environment or pose a threat to human health.

It seems like the plant-based biotech industry is poised for more of these major discoveries. Just in the last week, I've read about potential breakthroughs for cacao trees in their fight against fungal and plant diseases currently killing up to a third of cocoa pods. New CRISPR technology is being used to knock out a gene that made the plants vulnerable and improves disease resistance.

Then there was a new announcement by Beck's Hybrids and Benson Hill Biosystems to begin selling seeds with a first-ever photosynthetic efficiency trait allowing plants to better utilize sunlight. The teams says that trait helps increase yields and profitability.

This is just a couple of days worth of major news stories. As technology and the understanding of the biological world improves, it's no doubt we'll see more of these types of announcements. America and the world's farm stakeholders will continue to push to solve crises like it did with the potato blights or boll weevil of the past. Scientists are poised to unlock and unleash the natural world's defenses in a way we've never seen or scarcely could imagine.