SUPER PLANTS FOR THE 21st CENTURY

 

Professor Bob Goldberg

Department of Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology

University of California

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606

 

Approximately 10.5 billion people will inhabit the earth by the year 2050.  In order to feed this population, we will need to produce more food than has been produced in the entire history of mankind!  And we will need to produce this food on a contracting amount of land that is suitable for agriculture.  During the past 10,000 years man has "engineered" major crops, such as wheat and corn, from wild plants that are not suitable for cultivation. In order to feed the world's growing population will require a new "green revolution" that can lead to the production of high-yielding crops that can produce an abundance of nutritionally-balanced food.  Progress in plant molecular biology over the past 20 years has lead to major advances in plant genetic engineering.  It is now possible to engineer almost any plant for agronomically important genes and regenerate fertile, transgenic plants from cells in culture.  Many crop plants have been engineered for insect and viral resistance, delayed fruit ripening, improved nutritional quality, herbicide tolerance, and male-fertility control.  These engineered crops have lead to a reduced input of chemicals into the environment, increased yields, a reduction in soil erosion, and have offered hope to malnourished children with the production of vitamin A-enhanced rice.  In the future it should be possible to use plants as "factories" to produce new medicines and pharmaceuticals, raw materials for industrial processes, and new fuels that can reduce our dependency on petroleum products and lead to a new "green" agriculture.  The emerging field of "plant genomics" has "jump started" the new "green revolution."  Molecular and genetic approaches have been developed that make it possible to isolate and identify the function of every gene in plant chromosomes making it possible to learn "how to make a plant" in the near future.  This lecture will discuss the origins of agriculture by our ancestors 10,000 years ago and will demonstrate how modern tools of genetic engineering are an extension of what mankind has been doing for thousands of years in order to produce nutritionally-balanced and abundant food for its growing population.