|10-03-2008, 02:20 PM||#11|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Plant Tweak Could Let Toxic Soil Feed Millions
Thanks to a genetic breakthrough, a large portion of Earth's now-inhospitable soil could be used to grow crops -- potentially alleviating one of the most pressing problems facing the planet's rapidly growing population.
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside made plants tolerant of poisonous aluminum by tweaking a single gene. This may allow crops to thrive in the 40 to 50 percent of Earth's soils currently rendered toxic by the metal.
"Aluminum toxicity is a very limiting factor, especially in developing countries, in South America and Africa and Indonesia," said biochemist Paul Larsen. "It's not like these areas are devoid of plant life, but they're not crop plants. Among agriculturally important plants, there aren't mechanisms for aluminum tolerance."
The planet is rapidly running out of room to grow food, and scientists say that the world's booming population -- expected to swell by half in the next 50 years -- will outstrip food production. There's no more room for farms in the developed world; demand for cropland is fueling deforestation in the rain forests of Latin America and Africa; and the limits of the Green Revolution, which increased global food production through the use of pesticides and industrial farming techniques, have been reached. Another revolution, say agronomists, is needed.