Saving the climate with modern genetic engineering

A fifth less greenhouse gas could be emitted in agriculture, say researchers. Ironically, the “eco party” insists on old principles.

A tractor drives over a dry field in Lower Saxony during the potato harvest.  (Archive photo)

Dhe horror of farmers is called Phytophthora infestans. The fungus causes late blight in potatoes. Because it spreads quickly in fields, it is considered by experts to be one of the most dangerous plant diseases in the world. It causes crop losses of 20 percent on average. Organic farmers are even threatened with total failure because chemical pesticides are taboo for them and the permitted copper solutions do not stick to the plants when it rains. Researchers now want to use a new genetic engineering process to solve this problem: the Crispr / Cas gene scissors. Put simply, it is about cutting out the part of the genome that makes the potato susceptible to the fungus.

There are high hopes for methods like this, as they could help defuse a fundamental dilemma: On the one hand, farmers need additional land to feed the growing world population. On the other hand, more moors should not be drained and rainforests cut down, which harms the climate. If farmers could reap larger harvests with the help of resistant plants on the previous area, that would be ideal. But especially in Europe, reservations about methods like gene scissors are great. That should be evident again next weekend, when the Greens determine the details of the election program at their party congress.