Genomic Technologies Emerge as the Answer to World Hunger

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Genomic Technologies Emerge as the Answer to World Hunger

The ability to provide good nutrition for every human being has been an idealized dream throughout human history. But it has seldom, if ever, been realized. The problem revolves around providing not just enough calories, but the right kinds of nutrition to every person.

In many places, the land simply can’t produce enough food to sustain the population. However, since the 1960s, this has become less and less true. The so-called Green Revolution has completely changed the way food crops grow. In the process, it has transformed countries that once faced routine famines into food exporters.

More recently, advances in genetic engineering are heralding a new and even more potent revolution that may alleviate malnutrition even among the world’s poorest people. As explained in a recent report from The Economic & Social Research Council,1 these so-called “genomic technologies” will eventually be able to eradicate food shortages and deficiencies around the globe.

Recombinant DNA technology is simply a process of modifying the genetic code of any living organism. But, according to the journal Chemical Engineering Progress,2 the implications are enormous. There are an estimated 800 million people going hungry in the world today, despite overabundant crops in many nations.

According to the newspaper, All Africa,3 most of those people live in rural areas, many in African nations. But those very nations could become the “bread basket of Africa” with the advances being made in biotech crops that can grow in poor soil, require little or no tilling, and are resistant to insects and disease.

How would this work? A perfect example comes from a drama that played out in Hawaii in the 1990s. Hawaiian papaya farmers were watching their crops die from the ringspot virus. Papaya is one of the largest crops in that state, and an economic crisis was looming.

Scientists at Cornell University got busy to solve the problem in their biotech labs. A team of researchers copied a gene from a virus and then inserted it into the chromosome of the papaya plant, thereby immunizing it to the ringspot virus. An entire industry was rescued as a result.

Moreover, the papaya that saved the Hawaiian economy is safe to eat. The Food and Drug Administration4 has issued a statement that it is “confident that the genetically engineered food products on the U.S. market today are as safe as their conventionally bred counterparts. Genetically engineered foods must adhere to the same high standards of safety under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that apply to more traditional food products...

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