A Farmer and a Computer Save The World

Some may say that the advancement and evolution of technology have started to cause serious negative effects on society, and our cyclical co-dependency with technology only strengthens with each passing year.

Yet, with current food production not meeting our future demands and current climate and atmospheric conditions creating suboptimal growing conditions, technology may be our only hope. *insert Princess Leia’s plea for help here*

Many experts and scientists in agriculture are pushing for producing crops “in silico.” In a recent article published in Scientific American, Leslie Nemo explains about this new agricultural movement.

By designing highly accurate, computer-simulated crops researchers help speed up selective breeding (Nemo 2018). These “in silico” plant models allow scientists to analyze the plant growth and essentially breed virtual plants with desired attributes in much less time than a usual growing season.

Nemo describes how researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, used real gathered data to produce a simulation that tested four different planting patterns for Brazilian sugarcane fields. The results of the “in silico” crop was “10 percent greater than that which typical Brazilian sugarcane fields currently supply” (Nemo 2018). The results successfully demonstrated how “in silico” may benefit farmers.

The one setback for “in silico” is that research on elements of plants is still ongoing, and many scientists use different programming and simulations which do not effectively integrate with one another to produce a recognizable plant.

The “in silico” community are hopeful though as programmers at National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) “are building a software framework that can combine all the individual crop models into one plant displaying multiple programmable features” (Nemo 2018).

Because of the global skyrocketing population, severe diminishing soil nutrients and water availability, global food security is of utmost importance. The current rate of crop yields will not meet predicted demands of 2050 and the global food prices that will occur will devastatingly impact poor tropical countries, whose crop yields improve at vastly slow rates (Long et al. 2015).

Like a modern Norman Borlaug, crops “in silico” will be the quickest and most efficient way to help save the world from famine. The project and movement, now called Crops in silico, has become a global scientific collaboration whose goal is “to accelerate food production in a changing climate; primarily by guiding practical breeding, bioengineering and agronomy” (Crops in silico).

 

 References

 “About Cis.” Crops in Silico. Web. http://cropsinsilico.org/about-us/ 7 Feb. 2018.

Long, S. P., Marshall-Colon, A., Zhu, X. 2015. Meeting the global food demand of the future by engineering crop photosynthesis and yield potential. Cell 161: 56-66.

 Nemo, L. “Growing Virtual Plants Could Help Farmers Boost Their Crops.” Scientific American. Web. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/growing-virtual-plants-could-help-farmers-boost-their-crops/ 7 Feb. 2018.

 

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