From The Editors:
In "Future Farming: A Return to Roots" in the new August issue, Jerry D. Glover, Cindy M. Cox and John P. Reganold argue that many of the problems associated with the modern agriculture--soil erosion, excessive water demands, high energy inputs and so on--are linked to the fact that most important grain crops are annuals, not perennials. That is, the crop plants have short root systems and need to be grown anew from seeds each spring. So the authors, along with other researchers, are working on developing new strains of these crops that have permanent root systems from which they can regrow every year.
What do you think of that proposal? Many people are understandably wary of tampering with the ecosystem. But it's hard to deny that agriculture is already messing with the environment on a massive scale. And many valuable annual crop varieties are related to wild perennial species, so the new perennial varieties might not be totally alien to to nature. (Also note that it may not be necessary to use recombinant DNA technology to create these new plants through transgenics; it may also be possible to do it through marker assisted breeding, or cisgenics, which is fundamentally a sophisticated form of crossbreeding.) Of course, it's hard to think that Monsanto and other major seed producers will be pleased if new perennials cut into their markets for seed grain.
So should the development of new perennial grain species be applauded? Or discouraged? Leave your thoughts in comments.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.