For the benefits of genome-edited crops to be realized whilst the risks are controlled, we can only hope that the EU announces regulations that are acceptable to both scientists and society.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to expand from today’s 7 billion to way beyond 9 billion.
In the laboratory, genome editing has been used to create disease-resistant rice and wheat, and enhance drought tolerance in maize.
The lower cost means projects on smaller-scale crops become viable, and scientists are working to develop disease-resistant citrus trees and wine grapes.
Another feature of the coming years will be an increase in the resistance challenge we are already facing from both weeds and insects.
GM crops tolerant to glyphosate have caused over-reliance on this single herbicide, causing an ever-increasing number of weed species to evolve resistance to it.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is taking a gamble funding projects that aim to create cereal crops that can fix their own nitrogen.
This could be a game changer for poorer farmers who can’t access nitrogen fertilizers, and elsewhere could reduce the huge environmental cost of producing and using fertilizer. Whereas other GM crops might have a single gene inserted, for nitrogen fixation you need entire biological pathways.
But this resistance race won’t simply be won with technology.
Better management has the power to reduce the resistance problem—planting areas of non-GM crop next to the insect-resistant crop, for example.