Feeding the 600 million: the next step for genomics?
The recent successful sequencing of the genetic code of rice will underpin research on the crop for decades. This promises to bring huge benefits for farmers and consumers, but where should the science go next?
In this letter to Science, Peter Raven and colleagues say sequencing should now focus on the crops vital to poor farmers.
They point out that in 2050, some 90 per cent of the world population will live in developing countries and rely largely on agriculture — making such crops central to food security, poverty reduction, health, social stability and economic growth.
Cassava, they say, is an ideal choice. Grown throughout tropical Africa, Asia and the Americas, the crop feeds some 600 million people a day. Yet average yields attain barely a tenth of their potential — a concern of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Cassava Partnership, which says it should be the next species to have its genetic code sequenced.
Doing so would not only boost breeding technologies, but also bring the crop into the mainstream of plant science research. This is, say Raven and colleagues, the time to apply genomics to the needs of the global majority.