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Climate change and our food

As the number of people living on our planet increases, so does the need for plentiful, high-quality food.

That’s becoming more difficult, though, because of climate change.
Crops are struggling to adapt fast enough to survive the changes in the weather patterns and climate, including longer periods of drought, pest outbreaks and flooding.


How can atoms help farmers grow food that can withstand the catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis?

Plants, like people, naturally evolve to survive in their environment. Parent plants pass on their dominant genetic traits to their offspring in a legacy of adapting and diversifying.

This evolution in plants, from aquatic algae 500 million years ago to the orchards, mangroves and gardens we have today, is a very slow process, certainly slower than climate change.
Current science allows scientists to move this slow natural evolution to a laboratory setting and safely speed up the process.

By striking seeds with X rays, gamma rays or UV rays — a concentrated version of the rays produced by the sun — new crop varieties can be developed faster than in nature. This ‘awakens’ the necessary survival traits in the plant’s own DNA sooner than would happen if the plant was left alone.

Seeds from these new plant variants are then better suited to withstand some of the harsh conditions brought by climate change. 

But good genes aren’t enough. Like people, crops need water to survive, and taking a look deep into the atom can  help.

Farmers need to know when their crops need water and nutrients. By taking samples of water and looking at the unique atomic fingerprint of its molecules, scientists can generate data on the quantity and quality of water.

This allows farmers to choose the right time to irrigate and fertilize their crops, adapt to the prevailing environmental conditions and continue producing food while the climate is changing. And those adapted crops that they will be growing – they often need less water to thrive – completing the virtuous circle.

Checking Lettuce Growth
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