STEPHEN LONG

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Science -

Q&A

What keeps you feel­ing op­ti­mistic?

Last year the first of these ma­nip­u­la­tions gave us a 20 per cent boost in pro­duc­tiv­ity. Breed­ers are usu­ally happy if they can get 1 per cent. So that re­ally showed that we were onto some­thing. This year, two of my col­leagues work­ing on dif­fer­ent ways of im­prov­ing pho­to­syn­the­sis had ma­jor suc­cesses in their field tri­als.

Have you ever had mo­ments when you felt like giv­ing up?

I’ve cer­tainly had mo­ments where I’ve felt like giv­ing up. For a long time, there was a very strong be­lief that the process of pho­to­syn­the­sis couldn’t be im­proved in crops be­cause evo­lu­tion couldn’t pos­si­bly have left a free lunch on the ta­ble.

What’s your re­sponse to peo­ple who say your project won’t work?

My re­sponse is that we now have very strong ev­i­dence from repli­cated field tri­als that it is work­ing.

If you were able to rent out a bill­board in Times Square, what would you write on it?

‘Don’t be com­pla­cent about our global food sup­ply – it’s at se­ri­ous risk.’

What will your field of re­search look like in 2050?

I think the ge­netic tools that have been de­vel­oped over the last 20 to 30 years will be be­ing de­ployed at scale. So, we’ll have smart crops able to deal with dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments, and be far more sus­tain­able. That’s what the tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to al­low us. Whether we accept that tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to be another is­sue.

ABOVE: En­gi­neered seedlings are trans­planted into a field as part of The RIPE Project

LEFT: A stoma on a to­bacco leaf. These tiny pores reg­u­late the ex­change of gases be­tween the at­mos­phere and a leaf’s in­te­rior. When it’s dark or dur­ing times of drought, they close up so the plants don’t lose wa­ter

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