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The green revolution is slowing. What next?

We have witnessed a remarkable increase in crop yields over the past half-century, thanks largely to the impact of the green revolution, and its emphasis on the creation of new varieties of maize, rice and wheat through conventional plant breeding. Yet, the impact of the green revolution in terms of increasing plant yields has been slowing for some time. At the same time, the global population, especially in the developing world, continues to rise. Consequently, the ability to feed the world's population might well depend on advances in our understanding of the plant genome and plant genetics, and on our ability to engineer new plant varieties that can meet the environmental and climatic conditions that farmers are likely to encounter in the future. Scientists working in these areas face two major challenges. One is scientific — that is, to continue to conduct the research that is necessary to make advances in the field. The other is to convince the public that the work of scientists is not only safe but also necessary, and that much good, not harm, can come from these efforts. I hope to deepen my research by continuing to analyse plant genomes that could be useful in increasing the efficiency of phosphorous uptake and thus limiting the amount of fertilizers necessary to grow high-yielding food crops. I also hope the same techniques can be successfully used to create food crops that are more resistant to drought.

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Herrera-Estrella, L. The green revolution is slowing. What next?. Nature 456, 29 (2008).

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