The last few days in North Carolina most people have been paying very close attention to weather forecasts. The North Carolina coast could receive a direct hit from Hurricane Joaquin. The troubling news is even if Joaquin stays out at sea and misses us we could receive up to another 12 inches of rain, flooding here could be biblical over the next few days.
As people are beginning to prepare for what could be coming, I find myself thinking of the longer range effects of a flood. Specifically I have been wondering what effect floods have on agriculture. Based on what I have been reading it seems that floods can damage current and future generations of crops. Another hazard of flooding is that flood waters may also carry away the top soil making the land barren.
Creating drought resistant crops has been in the forefront of the agricultural news for years now. Helping to keep this on the agricultural world’s radar is the ongoing debate regarding whether conventional breeding or genetic engineering will ultimately be more successful in creating drought-resistant crops. Marc Brazeau of the Genetic Literacy Project last year wrote a wonderful article that dissected this argument: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/10/16/center-for-food-safety-attacks-gmo-drought-tolerant-crops-distorts-big-picture/
Regardless of whether a plant intelligent enough to self-hibernate without effecting yields in normal conditions comes about through conventional breeding or genetic engineering is interesting. Even more interesting is if this plant that could self-hibernate in times of no water could it also hibernate in time of too much water? How often would the same plant be asked to handle both drought and flood conditions?
Not surprisingly others have also asked these questions and for some crops the answer is a resounding yes to both questions. Take rice for example, a staple food for about half the world’s population. Rice contains a gene, Sub1A. Sub1A, in the most basic terms, allows the plant to survive and recover from either kind of extreme weather event. Details of the article can be found here: http://www.plantcell.org/content/23/1/412.short
No matter where one stands, on the whole, conventional breeding vs. genetic engineering debate, it seems very clear that the more science understands about how plant’s work, the more options for improvement become available. Those options are very comforting as right now North Carolina is preparing for many unknowns. Stay warm and dry everyone and don’t forget to get milk, eggs and bread. The one thing that we know for sure is during natural disasters you need the ingredients to make French toast.