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The Potential Of Genetically Enhanced Plants To Address Food Insecurity

Paul Christou, Richard M. Twyman

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Food insecurity is one of the most important social issues faced today, with 840 million individuals enduring chronic hunger and three billion individuals suffering from nutrient deficiencies. Most of these individuals are poverty stricken and live in developing countries. Strategies to address food insecurity must aim to increase agricultural productivity in the developing world in order to tackle poverty, and must provide long-term improvements in crop yields to keep up with demand as the world's population grows. Genetically enhanced plants provide one route to sustainable higher yields, either by increasing the intrinsic yield capability of crop plants or by protecting them from biotic and abiotic constraints. The present paper discusses a range of transgenic approaches that could increase agricultural productivity if applied on a large scale, including the introduction of genes that confer resistance to pests and diseases, or tolerance of harsh environments, and genes that help to lift the intrinsic yield capacity by increasing metabolic flux towards storage carbohydrates, proteins and oils. The paper also explores how the nutritional value of plants can be improved by genetic engineering. Transgenic plants, as a component of integrated strategies to relieve poverty and deliver sustainable agriculture to subsistence farmers in developing countries, could have a significant impact on food security now and in the future.