Tag Archives: climate change

Salim Al Babili, Ph.D., KAUST
Food Genomics

To Boost Crop Resilience, We Need to Read Our Plants’ Genetic Codes

By Salim Al Babili, Ph.D.
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Salim Al Babili, Ph.D., KAUST

In just 30 years, worldwide food production will need to nearly double to feed the projected population of 9 billion people. Challenges to achieving food security for the future include increasing pressures of global warming and shifting climatic belts, a lack of viable agricultural land, and the substantial burdens on freshwater resources. With the United Nations reporting nearly one billion people facing food insecurity today, our work must begin now.

A key research area to meet this crisis is in developing crops resilient enough to grow in a depleting environment. That’s why we need to search for ways to improve crop resilience, boost plant stress resistance and combat emerging diseases. Researchers around the world, including many of my colleagues at Saudi Arabia-based King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), are exploring latest genome editing technologies to develop enough nutritious, high-quality food to feed the world’s growing population.1

Where We’ve Been, and Where We Need to Go

Farmers have been genetically selecting crop plants for thousands of years, choosing superior-looking plants (based on their appearance or phenotype) for breeding. From the early 20th century, following breakthroughs in understanding of genetic inheritance, plant breeders have deliberately cross-bred crop cultivars to make improvements. In fact, it was only a few decades ago that Dr. Norman Borlaug’s development of dwarf wheat saved a billion lives from starvation.

However, this phenotypic selection is time-consuming and often expensive—obstacles that today’s global environment and economy don’t have the luxury of withstanding.

Because phenotypic selection relies on traits that are already present within the crop’s genome, it misses the opportunity to introduce resilient features that may not be native to the plant. Features like salt tolerance for saltwater irrigation or disease resistance to protect against infections could yield far larger harvests to feed more people. This is why we need to explore genome editing methods like CRISPR, made popular in fighting human diseases, to understand its uses for agriculture.

What Our Research Shows

We can break down these issues into the specific challenges crops face. For instance, salt stress can have a huge impact on plant performance, ultimately affecting overall crop yields. An excess of salt can impede water uptake, reduce nutrient absorption and result in cellular imbalances in plant tissues. Plants have a systemic response to salt stress ranging from sensing and signaling to metabolic regulation. However, these responses differ widely within and between species, and so pinpointing associated genes and alleles is incredibly complex.2

Researchers must also disentangle other factors influencing genetic traits, such as local climate and different cultivation practices.

Genome-wide association studies, commonly used to scan genomes for genetic variants associated with specific traits, will help to determine the genes and mutations responsible for individual plant responses.3 Additionally, technology like drone-mounted cameras could capture and scan large areas of plants to measure their characteristics, reducing the time that manual phenotyping requires. All of these steps can help us systematically increase crops’ resilience to salt.

Real-world Examples

“Quinoa was the staple ‘Mother Grain’ that fueled the ancient Andean civilizations, but the crop was marginalized when the Spanish arrived in South America and has only recently been revived as a new crop of global interest,” says Mark Tester, a professor of plant science at KAUST and a colleague of mine at the Center for Desert Agriculture (CDA). “This means quinoa has never been fully domesticated or bred to its full potential even though it provides a more balanced source of nutrients for humans than cereals.”

In order to further understand how quinoa grows, matures and produces seeds, the KAUST team combined several methods, including cutting-edge sequencing technologies and genetic mapping, to piece together full chromosomes of C. quinoa. The resulting genome is the highest-quality quinoa sequence to date, and it is producing information about the plant’s traits and growth mechanisms.4,5

The accumulation of certain compounds in quinoa produces naturally bitter-tasting seeds. By pinpointing and inhibiting the genes that control the production of these compounds, we could produce a sweeter and more desirable crop to feed the world.

And so, complexity of science in food security increases when we consider that different threats affect different parts of the world. Another example is Striga, a parasitic purple witchweed, which threatens food security across sub-Saharan Africa due to its invasive spread. Scientists, including my team, are focused on expanding methods to protect the production of pearl millet, an essential food crop in Africa and India, through hormone-based strategies for cleansing soils infested with Striga.6

Other scientists with noteworthy work in the area of crop resilience include that of KAUST researchers Simon Krattinger, Rod Wing, Ikram Blilou and Heribert Hirt; with work spanning from leaf rust resistance in barley to global date fruit production.

Looking Ahead

Magdy Mahfouz, an associate professor of bioengineering at KAUST and another CDA colleague, is looking to accelerate and expand the scope of next-generation plant genome engineering, with a specific focus on crops and plant responses to abiotic stresses. His team recently developed a CRISPR platform that allows them to efficiently engineer traits of agricultural value across diverse crop species. Their primary goal is to breed crops that perform well under climate-related stresses.

“We also want to unlock the potential of wild plants, and we are working on CRISPR-guided domestication of wild plants that are tolerant of hostile environments, including arid regions and saline soils,” says Mahfouz.

As climate change and population growth drastically alters our approach to farming, no singular tool may meet the urgent need of feeding the world on its own. By employing a variety of scientific and agricultural approaches, we can make our crops more resilient, their cultivation more efficient, and their yield more plentiful for stomachs in need worldwide. Just as technology guided Dr. Bourlag to feed an entire population, technology will be the key to a food secure 21st century.

References

  1. Zaidi, SS. et al. (2019). New plant breeding technologies for food security. Science. 363:1390-91.
  2. Morton, M. et al. (2018). Salt stress under the scalpel – dissecting the genetics of salt tolerance. Plant J. 2018;97:148-63.
  3. Al-Tamimi, N. et al. (2016). Salinity tolerance loci revealed in rice using high-throughput non-invasive phenotyping. Nature Communicat. 7:13342.
  4. Jarvis, D.E., et.al. (2017). The genome of Chenopodium quinoa. Nature. 542:307-12.
  5. Saade. S., et. al. (2016). Yield-related salinity tolerance traits identified in a nested association mapping (NAM) population of wild barley. Sci Reports. 6:32586.
  6. Kountche, B.A., et.al. (2019). Suicidal germination as a control strategy for Striga hermonthica (Benth.) in smallholder farms of sub‐Saharan Africa. Plants, People, Planet. 1: 107– 118. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp3.32
Tatiana Bravo, INTURN
FST Soapbox

Looking Ahead: The Digital Supply Chain and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods

By Tatiana Bravo
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Tatiana Bravo, INTURN

The global supply chain is changing. The fast-moving supply chains that power many of the world’s top businesses are being transformed before our very eyes, as companies all over the globe compete to beat their competitors through digitalization.

What we’re now seeing is the emergence of a digital supply chain, with processes powered by innovative and exciting new ideas turned into software.

As we look ahead to the coming months and years, we can expect to see incredible changes affecting the supply chains of all manner of businesses. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that any business that’s serious about competing on the global stage will have no choice but to embrace these innovations and go digital.

So, what exactly can we expect to see from the digital supply chain in the near future, and how might these changes affect fast-moving consumer goods?

Advanced Analytics

The potential of analytics is incredible, particularly when you look at supply chains.

Recent years have seen data rise to the forefront of many business leaders’ concerns. Increasing numbers of companies have started to pick up on the impact that informative data can have on their strategies, and ultimately their chances of ongoing success in the marketplace.

The supply chain is no exception to this rule. As the power of analytical software improves, businesses will be clamoring to gain access to, and make use of, the huge amount of data that’s now available.

We’re likely to see those managing data put under increasing amounts of pressure to use that data effectively, helping to inform decisions that impact supply chain processes and limit wastage. This data will also be invaluable in determining the real impact of critical supply chain decisions and informing future strategies.

The Emergence of AI
AI is the next big thing in business, and it’s set to transform the way the digital supply chain works. Artificial intelligence is now emerging as a hugely powerful tool, capable of helping businesses to make the right decisions for their supply chains.

As the potential of AI improves, we can expect to see its impact felt more widely throughout global supply chains. Look out for AI being used to inform businesses on changing customer preferences, disruptions in supply chains, increasing costs and other obstacles to product delivery. Artificial intelligence will predict future problems before they occur, giving business owners plenty of time to steer clear of potential pitfalls and keep things moving.

AI will also prove invaluable when it comes to anticipating the purchasing habits of existing customers and establishing the value of new leads and potential purchasers. If used effectively, this information could have a dramatic impact on the success of a wide range of different businesses—particularly those focused on fast-moving consumer goods.

Automation of Supply Chain Tasks

Automation itself isn’t a new idea, but the way it’s being used in digital supply chains is.

In the coming months and years, we’re likely to see automation transform the way supply chains work. The automation of processes will help businesses to cut costs, improve efficiency and eliminate any skills gaps by which they may be affected.

Supply chain tasks are being automated with the help of something called robotic process automation, or RPA. This form of automation is even smarter than traditional automated processes.

Informed by software bots or AI, RPA is a significant step forward in the world of digital supply chains. It’s highly scalable, incredibly effective and, importantly, it’s been proven to be hugely reliable. So, even businesses dedicated to the very highest standards of quality are now beginning to automate processes using RPA.

Climate Change Challenges

Climate change continues to be a hot topic in the news, and supply chains are likely to feel the impact of these concerns.

Consumers’ purchasing habits are increasingly led by environmental considerations. It’s therefore important that companies consider the environmental impact of their supply chain processes and provide visibility on these, for those who have an interest.

It’s expected that issues surrounding sustainability will become ever more critical in the future. Inevitably, supply chains will be impacted. Companies making use of digitalization will be best placed to prepare for the challenges of sustainability, reducing waste and making speedy adjustments to their processes as and when required.

A Shift in Transportation

The digitalization of supply chain processes has given ecommerce companies and online retailers the edge over traditional high street retailers. And this has led to a shift towards online shopping, which shows no sign of waning. As we continue into 2020 and beyond, we can expect to see more and more consumers choosing to shop online, and that’s going to have a knock-on effect on the transportation of goods.

Experts are predicting a transportation crunch, when demand begins to outstrip the availability of transport for online goods. This is likely to lead to a shift in how goods are transported, which could well align with changes to logistics designed to improve sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint of products.

Changes in Trade Agreements

Changes in trade agreements between many of the world’s leading economies are likely to impact supply chains in the future. With Brexit looming and trade issues between the United States and China continuing, it’s important that companies remain aware of how political decisions might affect the way they work.

Digital supply chains provide enhanced flexibility for companies, enabling organizations to quickly adapt to changes that could be outside of their control. So, companies that continue to provide a fast and reliable service despite changing trade agreements could well gain an edge over less efficient competitors as time goes on.

Companies making full use of digitalization will be best placed to make the most of new opportunities, and avoid supply chain disruption as a result of changing trade agreements.

Security Concerns

While businesses are beginning to realize the potential of the data that’s now available to them, consumers too are opening their eyes to the data that they share with the world. And this increased awareness has led to consumers being newly concerned about the data they reveal, and how secure that data is once it’s been shared.

Companies looking to make full use of the digitalization of supply chain processes will be incredibly reliant on data to maximize their efficiency. For this reason, it will be vital that companies establish trust with their existing customers and new prospects.

Security measures should therefore be top of the agenda for forward-thinking businesses. Companies that fall foul of security breaches and data losses are unlikely to be trusted with consumers’ data going forward, and this could have a detrimental impact on the efficiency of their digital supply chains in the future.

Digitalization is sweeping through the supply chains of companies all over the planet, and its potential is mind boggling. The automation of supply chain processes has already transformed the way supply chains are managed, massively increasing the speed and efficiency of a huge number of different companies.

In the future, we’re likely to see further improvements to digital supply chains, as companies begin to make better use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Look out for supply chains managed by AI-powered software and RPA, and get ready for astounding productivity from early adopters of these exciting new technologies.

Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

If You Think Plague Is a Thing of the Past, Think Again

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

Rodents are vectors of more than 50 pathogens, including plague.1 While plague may be considered a problem of the past, according to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015, there were 3,248 cases of reported plague worldwide and 584 deaths. While it is clearly not the 1300’s when the plague killed millions, the CDC confirms, “plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the western United States, primarily in semi-arid upland forests and grasslands where many types of rodent species can be involved.” While the fact that plague is still lurking is a bit surprising, it should be no surprise that rodents can spread more than 50 diseases. Not the least of these diseases is Salmonella braenderup, the cause of recall of approximately 206,749,248 eggs in 2018. The good news: In the age of IoT, new technology can enable an immediate response to help prevent infestations from growing out of control.

With rodent populations on the rise due to climate change and the resultant public health issues in major cities across the United States, public health officials and pest managers face unimaginable challenges in staying ahead of rapidly growing and spreading rodent infestations. Earlier this year, Los Angeles had a typhus outbreak that resulted from a rat infestation near an encampment for those experiencing homelessness. The unsanitary conditions created a harborage for rats that spread the flea-borne illness. Cases of typhoid have doubled in the area since 2012. When and where will the next pathogen outbreak from rodent activity hit?

If that’s not frightening enough, it is important to highlight that once an infected, flea-carrying rodent enters a facility, eliminating the rodent does not always necessarily mean eliminating the presence of plague pathogens. The World Health Organization explains that once vectors have been introduced through rodents and their fleas, it is not enough to eliminate rodents. Vector control must take place before rodent control because “killing rodents before vectors will cause the fleas to jump to new hosts.”

Controlling the spread of pathogens via rodents is becoming increasingly important, particularly in sensitive environments like food processing and manufacturing facilities. Effective management begins with early and accurate detection and sustained through continuous monitoring. However, the traditional method of manual rodent inspection by its very nature cannot provide facility and pest managers with either early detection or continuous monitoring.

Thanks to IoT, monitoring systems can now be used in a wide variety of rodent monitoring devices inside and outside a facility. The systems transmit messages in real time over wireless networks and provide pest managers, facility management and public health officials with 24/7 visibility of rodent activity in a monitored location, which will enable more timely responses and help improve the effectiveness of mitigation efforts. Digital IoT technologies are rapidly becoming the modern proactive tool used to help predict and control rodent issues before they occur in an age when traditional, reactive methods are insufficient.

Reference

  1. Meerburg, B.G., Singleton, G.R., and Kijlstra, A. (2009). “Rodent-borne Diseases and their Risk for Public Health”. Crit Rev Microbiol.
Judy Black, Rentokil
Bug Bytes

Impact of Climate Change on Pest Populations

By Judy Black
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Judy Black, Rentokil

As the effects of climate change continue to set in around the world, several threats to our daily lives and the way we do business have emerged in its wake. While impacts such as extreme weather events, regional droughts and rising sea levels frequently draw the most attention, there is another important and potentially devastating consequence to consider. As many pests are more prevalent in warmer climates, rising global temperatures exacerbate the risk they pose to both public health and food production.

A warmer overall climate accelerates insect population growth in a number of ways. Warmer global temperatures expand the habitats that support many types of insects. This is causing bug populations to spread poleward, both further north and further south than they’ve appeared historically. Longer summers allow insect populations to breed for a larger portion of year, allowing them to add more generations and multiply in greater numbers during each seasonal cycle. Higher temperatures also increase survival rates among these pests, as the natural predators that limit their numbers in their native habitat lag behind when they spread to a new habitat, allowing the population to grow without nature’s built-in safeguards on population growth. One example of a pest that has benefited from rising temperatures is the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which mainly affects humans by spreading diseases such as dengue virus, but can also harbor diseases affecting livestock that are part of the food supply chain. Although this pest is native to Southeast Asia, it is rapidly spreading throughout the world and is now found throughout the Asian continent, Australia, Europe, South America, parts of Africa and in North America, where they’re now present in 32 U.S. states.

The rising threat of pests accompanying climate change impacts the global food supply in some very direct ways. Some insects increase in size in warmer temperatures, and larger insects eat more food. This means that, in addition to existing in greater numbers, insect populations can have a more devastating effect on the crops they consume. In addition to the greater threat of insect pests, rodents multiply in greater numbers during warmer weather, posing a larger threat to both crops in the field and stored products in manufacturing and shipping facilities throughout the supply chain.

There are numerous examples of how these pests are negatively impacting crops, including the coffee berry borer, which is native to Africa but has spread to virtually every coffee-growing region in the world, including Hawaii, and now causes more than $500 million in damages to coffee plants each year. This beetle becomes 8.5% more infectious for every 1.8o F increase in temperature, meaning this problem will only get worse as the climate warms. The kudzu bug is a major problem for farmers throughout the Southeastern United States, where it feeds on soybeans and other legumes. The kudzu bug impacts soybean yield in a way resembles the stress placed on crops during a drought. This pest is suspected to originate in Asia, but it’s been on the rise in the United States since 2009, causing insecticide use on soybean crops to quadruple over the 10-year period from 2004–2014.

As climate change drives global temperatures higher and higher, its impact on pest populations means greater risks for both public health and industries that make up the global food supply chain. It also means a greater need for companies in these industries to know the specific risks pests pose to their products and to work closely with a pest management partner to develop a plan for mitigating those risks, identifying potential problems before they escalate and treating any outbreak quickly and effectively, before it can cause a major loss of product and impact the company’s bottom line.

Risk, food safety

Seven Threats to the Food Supply Chain

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Risk, food safety

Food businesses face a range of risks, from lack of consumer confidence to supply chain security. As FSMA regulations and issues such as climate change rise to the top of the list of priorities of global governments and regulators, food companies need to secure the reins on their businesses to ensure they can face these seven emerging risks in 2016 and beyond.

SevenEmergingRisks_FoodSupply
Infographic courtesy of EtQ, Inc.