Tackling food security through genetic technology

Dr. John Bedbrook, executive chairman of DiCE Molecules LLC, speaks on food security issues at a recent Enrichment in the Fall keynote lecture.

The world's population is expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050, and one of the biggest challenges will be to grow crops sustainably on increasingly water- and nutrient-poor soils. The World Bank predicts that many parts of sub-Saharan Africa will become hotter and dryer as drylands are set to increase up to 20 percent by 2030.

This problem is compounded by the fact that "the countries in most need of food production are the ones that are the most disadvantaged," explained Dr. John Bedbrook​, the executive chairman of DiCE Molecules LLC, a pharmaceutical and small molecule compounds discovery company, who presented a keynote lecture at the University's recent 2016 Enrichment in the Fall program.

"Another problematic situation is that as the populations from emerging economies grow wealthier and rise to middle class ranks, meat consumption also increases, which further adds to the stresses on arable lands," Bedbrook noted.

Bedbrook has a Ph.D. in molecular virology from the University of Auckland (New Zealand), has founded several biotech companies and worked at DuPont as vice president of agriculture and nutrition research and later as vice president of the company's Agricultural Biotechnology unit. He has also published over 100 scientific papers.

"Genetics has done an extraordinary job increasing the productivity of crops in the last 100 years," he told the audience.

Bedbrook continues to actively promote research in seed development aimed at improving crop yields and quality. He explained how hybridization, a big element of this research, helps to increase seed germination.

"These technologies are of vital importance to develop crops capable of meeting the growing demands and complexities of the agricultural systems to feed the world," he said.

- By Meres J. Weche​, KAUST News

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