“How We Decide Who Benefits from the Potential Contributions of Genome Edited Crops”
Presented by Kevin Pixley (Mexico)
Genetically engineered (GE) crops have been grown for more than 20 years, resulting in widespread albeit variable benefits for farmers and consumers. Gene editing and other biotechnologies offer novel opportunities to protect the value of our food crops, for example by controlling disease-causing pathogens, parasitic weeds, and insect vectors of plant pathogens, or by enhancing the drought or flooding tolerance of crops. Gene editing also offers value-adding opportunities, including improved nutritional qualities, prolonged shelf life, reduced need for agrochemicals, and increased yield. While there will be no shortage of potentially beneficial GE applications for farmers and consumers, it is uncertain whether and where these will be realized. Social institutional forces – intellectual property regimes, technology regulatory frameworks, the balance of funding between public- and private-sector research, and advocacy by concerned civil society groups – interact to define who uses which GE technologies, on which crops, and for the benefit of whom. Faced with growing challenges from climate change, population growth, and ensuring eco-sustainability of agricultural production, societies will decide whether to avail gene editing or other biotechnologies or forego their potential contributions. If GE technologies are availed, affirmative policies and public investments will be required to ensure equitable access to their benefits.
Kevin Pixley leads the Genetic Resources Program and is interim Deputy Director General for Research at CIMMYT, where he helps formulate, facilitate and oversee inter-disciplinary strategies to enhance the relevance and impacts of wheat and maize research to improve livelihoods, especially for resource-poor farmers.
Pixley and his team use genomics, phenomics and informatics to characterize and enhance the conservation and use of maize and wheat biodiversity, exploring the use of crop biodiversity to address novel opportunities, including enhanced sustainability of farming systems, improved nutritional or health outcomes or value-addition for farmers. They also look for opportunities to apply novel technologies to address needs of resource-poor farmers. He also discovers and implements mechanisms to increase equity in access to and benefits from research and technologies, and seeks to constructively contribute to societal decision making about use of technology.
His current research includes: 1) The genomic characterization of maize and wheat germplasm bank diversity and enhancing the use of diversity in breeding; 2) The use of novel breeding tools, especially gene editing, to complement traditional breeding techniques; 3) The development of tools and approaches to enhance the use of genomics in teaching the use of biodiversity in plant breeding; 4) The legal frameworks governing and opportunities promoting fair access and sharing of benefits from genetic resources; 5) The role of provitamin A carotenoids (and other anti-oxidants) in maize grain towards reducing mycotoxin contamination of grain; and 6) science and society, including how to ensure equitable opportunity for all to access the potential benefits of science.