Climate adaptation and developing climate-resilient crops
Droughts, floods, and other extreme events are making farming more challenging and threatening crop yields worldwide.
Adapting to it would entail moving crops away up to thousands of miles to more favourable environments for crops growing significantly in tropical or equatorial regions where extremely high temperatures could decrease crops yields.
A study by Sultan, Defrance, and Iizumi published on the “Nature” website finds that climate change effects have already caused significant crop yield losses in West Africa. Researchers used two ensembles of 100 historical climate simulations of sorghum and millet yields for two types of climate conditions derived from an atmospheric general circulation model and crop models – one with climate change and the other without climate change from 2000 to 2009.
They find that the simulations with climate change – that is, with a warming of 1°C, will bring more frequent heat and rainfall extremes will reduce the regional average yield by 10 to 20% for millet and 5 – 15% for sorghum which is equivalent to USD 2.33 to 4.20 billion for millet, and USD 0.73 to 2.17 billion for sorghum.
According to the study, findings will serve as a basis for loss and damage due to climate change and help estimate the cost of adapting crop production systems to climate change.
Helping farmers adapt to climate change through climate-resilient crops
An article from TechCrunch shared an exciting development in crop genetics that can identify traits in plants that makes them heat, drought, and cold at a fraction of cost and time compared with other big biotech companies through the help of a novel Artificial Intelligence approach.
Avalo, a start-up ‘biological production and crop development’ company, uses “AI-powered genome analysis that can reduce the time and money it takes to breed hardier plants for this hot century.”
The company is founded by two friends, founder and CEO Brendan Collins, a cell biologist and programmer and, Mariano Alvarez, an evolutionary and computational biologist.
According to the article, large seed and agriculture companies invest a lot of time, which could take decades and money up to millions of dollars just to find that desired trait in the plant that makes them more resistant to heat, droughts, flooding, and insects. And this is where Avalo steps in.
The company has built a model for simulating the effects of changes to a plant’s genome, which they claim can reduce that 15-year lead time to two or three and the cost by a similar ratio (Codeway, 2021).
Creating better versions of crops at a faster time frame and lower costs could help farmers increase their yield and profits, making them more resilient to climate change.
“The idea was to create a much more realistic model for the genome that’s more evolutionarily aware. That is, a system that models the genome and genes on it that includes more context from biology and evolution. With a better model, you get far fewer false positives on genes associated with a trait, because it rules out far more as noise, unrelated genes, minor contributors and so on.”
Coldeway (2021) explains more:
Avalo’s system ruled out more than 90% of the genes that would have had to be individually investigated. They had high confidence that these 32 genes were not just related, but causal — having a real effect on the trait. And this was borne out with brief “knockout” studies, where a particular gene is blocked and the effect of that studied. Avalo calls its method “gene discovery via informationless perturbations,” or GDIP.