Tag Archives: food security

Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

“Bio-hacking” makes it possible to produce milk without cows and eggs without chickens. So-called synthetic biology could revolutionize food systems to more sustainably feed 7 billion,” says Hannes Sjoblad, a Swedish bio-hacker activist and Chief Disruption Officer at Epicenter in Stockholm.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

Bio-hacking applies technology in creative ways to change biological systems like cells, plants, animals – and Homo sapiens. Hannes Sjoblad believes bio-hacking can revolutionize food production systems to help sustainably feed a growing global population.

According to Hannes Sjoblad, “the current food production systems on the planet simply cannot sustain 7 billion inhabitants who would like to have the type of diet that you and I are used to. The current way of doing things is not sustainable. We are over-fishing, we are polluting, we’re cutting down rain-forests to feed beef cows – it’s absolutely not sustainable. And for me, the solution is not politics. The solution is not a citizen or a consumer activism. The solution must be technology.”

Image Credit: DW

He believes using digital biology technique to produce milk in-vitro for instance, and that “we can make the milk production process 10 to 100 times more energy-efficient. Entrepreneurs can modify the genes of yeast cells to make them produce milk. So we can now produce milk without cows.” There are now a lot of startups in this field that is called Digital Biology or Synthetic Biology.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

“Bio-hacking is a fairly new practice that could lead to major changes in our life. You could call it citizen or do-it-your-self biology. It takes place in small labs — mostly non-university — where all sorts of people get together to explore biology. That could mean figuring out how the DNA in plants affects their growth, or how to manipulate genes from another source to make a plant glow in the dark. It often is aimed at producing a product, like the chairs and building blocks that artist Philip Ross makes by feeding mushrooms a meal of sawdust or peanut shavings. It is experimenting on the cheap, usually without the benefit of a fancy university laboratory, and it often involves DNA and genes. If you don’t know enough biology to take part at first, you learn it along the way.” Explained Spencer Michels, a correspondent and producer in the San Francisco office of the PBS News Hour.

Source: DW, PBS

Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

Africa must advance rapidly to meet growing food demands and raise incomes while protecting the environment for future generations. Crop improvement through genome editing will provide this opportunity.

Genome editing of crops represents the latest scientific progress with potential aimed at fighting the persistent food crisis situations in developing societies. Genome editing is simply inserting, deleting or replacing DNA at a specific site in the genome of a cell or organism and this can be achieved in the laboratory using engineered nucleases  known as Molecular Scissors.

A strand of DNA is cut at a specific point and naturally existing cellular repair mechanisms then fix the broken DNA strands and the way they are repaired affects gene function. The families of engineered nucleases used are Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs), Meganucleases, Transcription Activator-Like Effector-based Nucleases (TALEN), and the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).

The emergence of CRISPR Associated System (CRISPR-Cas9) has revolutionized the field of genome editing and is now the most commonly used genome editing tool. Genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 has been demonstrated in some crops like rice, lettuce, maize, potato, soybean and some other leguminous crops. In China, CRISPR has been used to produce a variety of wheat resistant to powdery mildew disease and presently in Japan; field trials for high yield gene edited rice are ongoing.

Genome editing/CRISPR-Cas9 system has potential for crop improvement in Africa because this technology is easier, faster and cheaper than genetic engineering or conventional breeding. It also offers new opportunities for developing improved crop varieties with clear-cut addition of valuable traits and removal of undesirable traits. Crops of reliable high yields, resistance to diseases, pests, and stress factors can now be readily available.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Genome editing can be used for improvement of some of our staple crops in Africa like cassava, cowpea, yam, pearl millet, sweet potato, sorghum etc. Cassava brown streak virus affects cassava production greatly and CRISPR could offer a solution.

CRISPR-Cas9 system can be applied in the improvement of cowpea for resistance to abiotic stress. Abiotic stresses affecting cowpea production include drought, heat, and low soil fertility. Although the crop is known to be drought tolerant, its yield can be reduced significantly when exposed to seedling, mid-season or terminal drought. Genome editing can be used to improve the nutritional quality of these staple crops and also applied to local crop varieties that smallholder farmers in Africa prefer, to improve their livelihood.

Despite the debates on the acceptance of Genetically Modified Crops; there is hope for better policies and regulations concerning genome/CRISPR edited crops as it possible to edit the genome of crops without adding any foreign DNA.  Genome editing holds great promise for crop improvement in Africa and can be explored to tackle food insecurity and increase agricultural productivity. Africa must rise to its responsibility and take advantage of this opportunity in the global fight for zero hunger.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

 

Science Has the Power to Boost Agriculture in Africa

 

The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

It is, by and large, a successful sector. There have been huge improvements in yields and food production over the past five decades.

More cereals have been produced annually during the past 40 years than in any earlier period. It is also predicted that more grain will be harvested in 2017 than in any year in history. This is as a consequence of scientific advances, increased fertiliser use and favourable rainfall patterns.

Many of these gains have been felt in Africa. Improved seed varieties, new fertilisers and pesticides, improved credit and market access have all played a role. So have scientific innovations such as improved and more reliable weather prediction, improved drought tolerance and increased resistance to extreme climatic conditions, and cross-breeding for improved efficiency.

And yet hundreds of millions of people in Africa are going hungry every day. Globally, 800 million people are categorised as chronically hungry. Around 30% of them – 227 million people – live in Africa.

So where is the disconnect between food production and food security in Africa? Why does the continent spend about US $40 billion a year importing food when so many of its own residents are farmers? And how can this situation be changed?

At least part of the answer lies with science. There are already several excellent examples of ways in which science has led to dramatic increases in food production and moved farmers in some countries closer to self-sufficiency.

Science at work

A project in Uganda provides an excellent example. Ugandan scientist Robert Mwanga won the 2016 World Food Prize for his work in addressing Vitamin A deficiencies. Without Vitamin A, children are more likely to develop entirely preventable blindness. Working with people in Uganda’s poor, rural areas, Mwanga set about substituting, at scale, white sweet potato – which is low in Vitamin A – with a Vitamin A-rich alternative.

In Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his work on improving the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the production of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic Striga weed.

None of these projects would have been possible without governments supporting the research that lay behind them. But much more needs to be done. Research shows that investing an extra US $88 billion in agricultural research and development globally over the next 15 years could increase crop yields by 0.4% each year.

This could save 80 million people from hunger and protect five million children from malnourishment.

Africa is behind the curve on investing in research to improve agriculture outputs. Even though all 54 countries of the African Union have signed up to successive commitments – starting with the Maputo Declaration in 2003 – to increase their agricultural research budgets to at least 10% of their national budgets, few have actually done so.

At the last count only 13 had met or exceeded the 10% target in one or more years since 2003.

There’s an added problem. Africa relies on external capacity for most of its scientific research in agriculture. This has undermined its capacity to use science to deliver solutions for problems unique to Africa. This needs to change. Scientific research should be Africa-based, owned and led. Investment will be key – and so will solidarity among African scientists and governments.

Using science to benefit people

In 2014 African heads of state renewed their commitment to the agriculture sector when the signed the Malibu Declaration. The core of its agenda is to connect science to benefit society by:

  • Identifying broad areas of science that can be developed in partnership
  • Strengthening national science and technology institutions
  • Building human capacity
  • Diversifying funding sources to support science
  • Facilitating partnerships between African institutions at a national and continental level
  • Sharing information, technologies, information, facilities and staff for common challenges and opportunities, and
  • Creating a favourable policy environment for science

In addition to this, governments need to step up to the plate and increase their research budgets. Combined with the commitment to work together, the hope is that science will increasingly be used to create a more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector across the continent. This is critical to improve rural economies, where most people in Africa live.

Source: The Conversation