Microbes to Help Feed the World

by Allen Leigh, Contributor

A new scientific report was recently released that gives hope for feeding the world.  The report concerns microbiology and is titled, “How Microbes Can Help Feed the World.”  Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are commonly used to control pest, but these chemicals get into our environment and cause damage to plants, animals, and humans.  Scientists hope that microbes can reduce the need for chemical treatment of plants.

“Microbes are essential partners in all aspects of plant physiology, but human efforts to improve plant productivity have focused solely on the plant,” says Ian Sanders of the University of Lausanne, chair of the colloquium that produced the report.  “Optimizing the microbial communities that live in, on and around plants, can substantially reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”

I just hope that the microbes are natural and not the product of genetic engineering (GE).  I quickly browsed the report and didn’t see any mention of GE to develop new strains of microbes.  However, this is an endeavor that could adopt GE.


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3 Responses to Microbes to Help Feed the World

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Allen, I’m not sure I understand your last paragraph. Are you generally against GE? Or are you against it for this application?

    • Allen says:

      Hi Roger,

      Ideally, I’m in favor of GE, but pragmatically, I’m against it. If a farmer grows GE crops, it is easy for those crops to pollinate nearby farms that aren’t GE. This is an example of people being unable to control GE plants. Another thing, which I don’t like, is that many GE plants are sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year. Concerning bacteria, scientists are developing new strains of bacteria that do unnatural things for those bacteria, such as eating oil spills. I don’t know the details and I may be wrong, but I suspect those bacteria and GE plants haven’t been studied for long-term effects or side effects, and I wonder what will happen to our environment when those bacteria are introduced into the “wild”.

      Through GE, scientists are changing crops and bacteria without the eons of time required for those plants and the bodies of animals and humans to adapt to the changes.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        The issue of genetic engineering (GE) is an interesting one.

        A couple of years ago, I was in Spain where my brother (an economist) was getting an award. Also, getting an award was the International Rice Research Institute (located in the Philippines). Representing the IRRI was their director. At the reception after the award ceremony, my other brother (a biologist) and I talked to the IRRI director about GE. It was the director’s opinion (and my brother’s) that GE is a necessity if we are going to adequately feed the world’s growing population.

        I understand your concerns and they are real. Ironically issues like GE scare both the very conservative and the very liberal, (strange bedfellows?) as well as concerned citizens like yourself). But I think that the research is necessary. My biologist brother can provide a much better response to this than I can.

        If the US doesn’t stay involved with GE it will just move somewhere else. For instance in the case of stem-cell research, when Bush stopped federal funding, the research just moved to Singapore, China, etc. So what did our ban gain? If we are to understand the technology, we need to do the research.

        The issue of rapidly evolving technology is an interesting one. How are we going to handle it?

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