> Granted, these varieties may have other benefits, such
> as reducing the need for pesticides or increasing profitability,
> but I'm unaware of any new varieties, either biotech or
> otherwise, that have significantly higher yields than existing
> varieties. Are any of the companies working on this?
Transgenic approaches to pest control were first on the biotech agenda
because they were easy to do (relatively speaking). Traditionally, yield
and quality have been central for Pioneer, and the other big breeding
companies. These goals have been and are being pursued by "conventional"
breeding. I used quotes because now conventional breeding is powerfully
augmented by genetic fingerprinting and marker-assisted selection.
We are beginning to use powerful genetic and informational tools to gain
understanding of the biology underlying quality and yield. This
understanding is necessary to make much new progress. "Biotech" in the
plant breeding context is still in it's infancy. Even as we write, new
products better suited to food uses (as opposed to feed) are coming through
the pipeline. These include things like corn with lower mycotoxin levels,
better milling quality, soybeans better suited for soymilk and tofu, wheats
with improved food qualities.
IMO, it is in these areas, that genetic engineering will help feed the
world. Not so much through higher yields per se, as through improved
usefulness and value for human consumption.
> Awhile back some folks were saying that we'd reached a
> threshold, where yields of our major crops can't be increased
> significantly--that it's physically impossible. I wonder if
> this is, in fact, the case and perhaps, when all is said and
> done, we'll still have to deal with our overpopulation
> problems on this earth by reducing our population to a
> sustainable level.
I don't think yielding ability of crop varieties is a big problem. I'm sure
the world could produce far more grain than it does now, with existing
varieties. By shifting more of that to direct human consumption, far more
humans could be fed, though we may not like such a world. Hunger is a
problem now due to political and social factors.
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