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Ecosystem-level Genetic Modification
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Sub-Field:

3.3.1Ecosystem-level Genetic Modification

Ecosystem-level genetic modification is about using gene editing and manipulation technologies not only to enhance crops and plants but also to target a range of ecosystem constituents, including weeds, pathogens, pests and food crops. Such technologies, many nascent, include gene drives to eliminate pest populations, the development of RNA-based pesticides (which sidestep the problem of resistance development)5, and genetic manipulation of soil microbes to optimise crop yields.
Such technologies have the potential to significantly increase food production — especially with the growing importance of indoor and vertical farming — but there are issues to resolve. Much more research is needed to ascertain how the different component of an ecosystem react to even small biological manipulations, for instance. There are also legal issues: the European Court of Justice has ruled that modern gene editing is to be considered the same as genetic modification for the purposes of European Union law, and therefore subject to the same strict rules — organisms developed in this way are largely banned in the EU market.6 It is likely, though, that it is only a matter of time before genetics-based interventions will be deployed at scale; the US Department of Agriculture does not regulate crops produced using gene editing, as long as those genetic changes could also have been produced using conventional breeding techniques.7

Future Horizons:

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5-yearhorizon

Genetic modification remains controversial

Debates continue over what genetic modification (GM) methods and products are, or should be, acceptable in markets around the world. Technological capability grows steadily, with scientific advances continuing to outstrip the public debate.

10-yearhorizon

Crops begin to receive viral boosts

Agricultural crop performance is boosted by transient genetic reprogramming of plants, for example by using RNA sprays that virally alter crop traits without requiring the genetic modification of the plant’s genome.8 This makes them somewhat more palatable to wary consumers and regulators. Different genetic traits will be promoted, depending on the cultivation method: salt resistance and drought resistance will be important for outdoor cultivation, for instance; nutritional content and shortened growth cycle for indoor cultivation. Molecular sensors in plants become more widely used.

25-yearhorizon

The GM toolbox matures

A wide range of GM approaches become available, including novel, genetically active pesticides, gene-drive organisms and genetic engineering of crop plants accelerated by machine learning algorithms. Deployment of GM organisms and technology is differentially constrained around the world, depending on national and international regulations and agribusiness interests.

Ecosystem-level Genetic Modification - Anticipation Scores

How the experts see this field in terms of the expected time to maturity, transformational effect across science and industries, current state of awareness among stakeholders and its possible impact on people, society and the planet. See methodology for more information.

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