The global population continues to rise, as does the likelihood of reduced yields of major food crops due to the changing climate, thus making the development of genetically improved, stress-resilient crops a research priority. The convergence of low-cost genome sequencing with improved computational power and high-throughput molecular phenotyping technologies has accelerated the identification of genes underlying important agronomic traits relevant to food production and quality. Here, we discuss the evolution of plant improvement, and how researchers leverage genomic analyses and revolutionary new plant breeding technologies like site-directed nucleases to enhance food crop traits through agricultural biotechnology. Deployment of these products from the laboratory to the field remains hindered by biological and regulatory bottlenecks that require further development.
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We apologize to those authors whose research could not be cited due to space limits. We thank H. Bartram for a careful reading of the manuscript. M.A.S. was supported by the Corteva Agriscience Open Innovation programme grant entitled “Gene Editing for Organic Agriculture.” P.C.R. was supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation (award no. 1237975), the Crary Social Ecology Fund, the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (award no. 534683) and the National Institutes of Health (GM122968).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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Steinwand, M.A., Ronald, P.C. Crop biotechnology and the future of food. Nat Food 1, 273–283 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0072-3
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