Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Agriculture


The landscape for genetically modified organisms is changing, thanks to sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops and the classification of two of the most commonly used herbicides as probably or possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Health, Agriculture, Genetically modified organism, Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organisms, Golden rice


Agrobacterium rhizogenes and Agrobacterium tumefaciens are plant pathogenic bacteria capable of transferring DNA fragments [transfer DNA (T-DNA)] bearing functional genes into the host plant genome. This naturally occurring mechanism has been adapted by plant biotechnologists to develop genetically modified crops that today are grown on more than 10% of the world’s arable land, although their use can result in considerable controversy. While assembling small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, of sweet potato plants for metagenomic analysis, sequences homologous to T-DNA sequences from Agrobacterium spp. were discovered. Simple and quantitative PCR, Southern blotting, genome walking, and bacterial artificial chromosome library screening and sequencing unambiguously demonstrated that two different T-DNA regions (IbT-DNA1 and IbT-DNA2) are present in the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam.) genome and that these foreign genes are expressed at detectable levels in different tissues of the sweet potato plant. IbT-DNA1 was found to contain four open reading frames (ORFs) homologous to the tryptophan-2-monooxygenase (iaaM), indole-3-acetamide hydrolase (iaaH), C-protein (C-prot), and agrocinopine synthase (Acs) genes of Agrobacterium spp. IbT-DNA1 was detected in all 291 cultigens examined, but not in close wild relatives. IbT-DNA2 contained at least five ORFs with significant homology to the ORF14, ORF17n, rooting locus (Rol)B/RolC, ORF13, and ORF18/ORF17n genes of A. rhizogenes. IbT-DNA2 was detected in 45 of 217 genotypes that included both cultivated and wild species. Our finding, that sweet potato is naturally transgenic while being a widely and traditionally consumed food crop, could affect the current consumer distrust of the safety of transgenic food crops.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Agriculture, Evolution, Molecular biology, Horizontal gene transfer


Better stewardship of land is needed to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goal of holding warming to below 2 °C; however, confusion persists about the specific set of land stewardship options available and their mitigation potential. To address this, we identify and quantify “natural climate solutions” (NCS): 20 conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. We find that the maximum potential of NCS-when constrained by food security, fiber security, and biodiversity conservation-is 23.8 petagrams of CO2 equivalent (PgCO2e) y(-1) (95% CI 20.3-37.4). This is ≥30% higher than prior estimates, which did not include the full range of options and safeguards considered here. About half of this maximum (11.3 PgCO2e y(-1)) represents cost-effective climate mitigation, assuming the social cost of CO2 pollution is ≥100 USD MgCO2e(-1) by 2030. Natural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030 for a >66% chance of holding warming to below 2 °C. One-third of this cost-effective NCS mitigation can be delivered at or below 10 USD MgCO2(-1) Most NCS actions-if effectively implemented-also offer water filtration, flood buffering, soil health, biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience. Work remains to better constrain uncertainty of NCS mitigation estimates. Nevertheless, existing knowledge reported here provides a robust basis for immediate global action to improve ecosystem stewardship as a major solution to climate change.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agriculture, Ecosystem, Climate change, Greenhouse gas, Emission standard, Global warming potential, Global warming


Organic agriculture is proposed as a promising approach to achieving sustainable food systems, but its feasibility is also contested. We use a food systems model that addresses agronomic characteristics of organic agriculture to analyze the role that organic agriculture could play in sustainable food systems. Here we show that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use. However, in combination with reductions of food wastage and food-competing feed from arable land, with correspondingly reduced production and consumption of animal products, land use under organic agriculture remains below the reference scenario. Other indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions also improve, but adequate nitrogen supply is challenging. Besides focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, crop-grass-livestock interdependencies and human consumption. None of the corresponding strategies needs full implementation and their combined partial implementation delivers a more sustainable food future.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agriculture, Organic farming, Natural gas, Sustainable agriculture, Greenhouse gas, Agroecology, Permaculture


Improving diet quality while simultaneously reducing environmental impact is a critical focus globally. Metrics linking diet quality and sustainability have typically focused on a limited suite of indicators, and have not included food waste. To address this important research gap, we examine the relationship between food waste, diet quality, nutrient waste, and multiple measures of sustainability: use of cropland, irrigation water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Data on food intake, food waste, and application rates of agricultural amendments were collected from diverse US government sources. Diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index-2015. A biophysical simulation model was used to estimate the amount of cropland associated with wasted food. This analysis finds that US consumers wasted 422g of food per person daily, with 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food every year. This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption, one-quarter of daily food (by weight) available for consumption, and 7% of annual cropland acreage. Higher quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste and greater amounts of wasted irrigation water and pesticides, but less cropland waste. This is largely due to fruits and vegetables, which are health-promoting and require small amounts of cropland, but require substantial amounts of agricultural inputs. These results suggest that simultaneous efforts to improve diet quality and reduce food waste are necessary. Increasing consumers' knowledge about how to prepare and store fruits and vegetables will be one of the practical solutions to reducing food waste.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Eating, Nitrogen, Irrigation, Sustainability, Food security, Recycling


Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) are emerging contaminants posing a potential worldwide human health risk. Intensive animal husbandry is believed to be a major contributor to the increased environmental burden of ARGs. Despite the volume of antibiotics used in China, little information is available regarding the corresponding ARGs associated with animal farms. We assessed type and concentrations of ARGs at three stages of manure processing to land disposal at three large-scale (10,000 animals per year) commercial swine farms in China. In-feed or therapeutic antibiotics used on these farms include all major classes of antibiotics except vancomycins. High-capacity quantitative PCR arrays detected 149 unique resistance genes among all of the farm samples, the top 63 ARGs being enriched 192-fold (median) up to 28,000-fold (maximum) compared with their respective antibiotic-free manure or soil controls. Antibiotics and heavy metals used as feed supplements were elevated in the manures, suggesting the potential for coselection of resistance traits. The potential for horizontal transfer of ARGs because of transposon-specific ARGs is implicated by the enrichment of transposases-the top six alleles being enriched 189-fold (median) up to 90,000-fold in manure-as well as the high correlation (r(2) = 0.96) between ARG and transposase abundance. In addition, abundance of ARGs correlated directly with antibiotic and metal concentrations, indicating their importance in selection of resistance genes. Diverse, abundant, and potentially mobile ARGs in farm samples suggest that unmonitored use of antibiotics and metals is causing the emergence and release of ARGs to the environment.

Concepts: Medicine, Gene, Bacteria, Agriculture, Antibiotic resistance, Heavy metal music


Climate change will cause geographic range shifts for pollinators and major crops, with global implications for food security and rural livelihoods. However, little is known about the potential for coupled impacts of climate change on pollinators and crops. Coffee production exemplifies this issue, because large losses in areas suitable for coffee production have been projected due to climate change and because coffee production is dependent on bee pollination. We modeled the potential distributions of coffee and coffee pollinators under current and future climates in Latin America to understand whether future coffee-suitable areas will also be suitable for pollinators. Our results suggest that coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73-88% by 2050 across warming scenarios, a decline 46-76% greater than estimated by global assessments. Mean bee richness will decline 8-18% within future coffee-suitable areas, but all are predicted to contain at least 5 bee species, and 46-59% of future coffee-suitable areas will contain 10 or more species. In our models, coffee suitability and bee richness each increase (i.e., positive coupling) in 10-22% of future coffee-suitable areas. Diminished coffee suitability and bee richness (i.e., negative coupling), however, occur in 34-51% of other areas. Finally, in 31-33% of the future coffee distribution areas, bee richness decreases and coffee suitability increases. Assessing coupled effects of climate change on crop suitability and pollination can help target appropriate management practices, including forest conservation, shade adjustment, crop rotation, or status quo, in different regions.

Concepts: Agriculture, Climate, Climate change, Pollination, Bee, Crops


The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of public controversy. GM crops could contribute to food production increases and higher food availability. There may also be impacts on food quality and nutrient composition. Finally, growing GM crops may influence farmers' income and thus their economic access to food. Smallholder farmers make up a large proportion of the undernourished people worldwide. Our study focuses on this latter aspect and provides the first ex post analysis of food security impacts of GM crops at the micro level. We use comprehensive panel data collected over several years from farm households in India, where insect-resistant GM cotton has been widely adopted. Controlling for other factors, the adoption of GM cotton has significantly improved calorie consumption and dietary quality, resulting from increased family incomes. This technology has reduced food insecurity by 15-20% among cotton-producing households. GM crops alone will not solve the hunger problem, but they can be an important component in a broader food security strategy.

Concepts: Agriculture, Food, Malnutrition, Food security, Household income in the United States, Famine, Genetically modified food, Food industry


Most cropland in the United States is characterized by large monocultures, whose productivity is maintained through a strong reliance on costly tillage, external fertilizers, and pesticides (Schipanski et al., 2016). Despite this, farmers have developed a regenerative model of farm production that promotes soil health and biodiversity, while producing nutrient-dense farm products profitably. Little work has focused on the relative costs and benefits of novel regenerative farming operations, which necessitates studyingin situ, farmer-defined best management practices. Here, we evaluate the relative effects of regenerative and conventional corn production systems on pest management services, soil conservation, and farmer profitability and productivity throughout the Northern Plains of the United States. Regenerative farming systems provided greater ecosystem services and profitability for farmers than an input-intensive model of corn production. Pests were 10-fold more abundant in insecticide-treated corn fields than on insecticide-free regenerative farms, indicating that farmers who proactively design pest-resilient food systems outperform farmers that react to pests chemically. Regenerative fields had 29% lower grain production but 78% higher profits over traditional corn production systems. Profit was positively correlated with the particulate organic matter of the soil, not yield. These results provide the basis for dialogue on ecologically based farming systems that could be used to simultaneously produce food while conserving our natural resource base: two factors that are pitted against one another in simplified food production systems. To attain this requires a systems-level shift on the farm; simply applying individual regenerative practices within the current production model will not likely produce the documented results.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Ecology, Soil, Maize, Farm, Profit


This study was conducted with the objective of testing the hypothesis that tomato fruits from organic farming accumulate more nutritional compounds, such as phenolics and vitamin C as a consequence of the stressing conditions associated with farming system. Growth was reduced in fruits from organic farming while titratable acidity, the soluble solids content and the concentrations in vitamin C were respectively +29%, +57% and +55% higher at the stage of commercial maturity. At that time, the total phenolic content was +139% higher than in the fruits from conventional farming which seems consistent with the more than two times higher activity of phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL) we observed throughout fruit development in fruits from organic farming. Cell membrane lipid peroxidation (LPO) degree was 60% higher in organic tomatoes. SOD activity was also dramatically higher in the fruits from organic farming. Taken together, our observations suggest that tomato fruits from organic farming experienced stressing conditions that resulted in oxidative stress and the accumulation of higher concentrations of soluble solids as sugars and other compounds contributing to fruit nutritional quality such as vitamin C and phenolic compounds.

Concepts: Protein, Agriculture, Antioxidant, Vitamin C, Fruit, Tomato, Vegetable, Organic farming