Can Supercrops Feed 10 BILLION People?

published on July 13, 2020

Today’s video is supported by ​Bill andMelinda Gates​Hey smart people, Joe hereIf you tried to sum up the last 150 yearsor so in one image, it might be this one:It’s a chart of exponential growth, andit shows that some things change faster overtimeYou could apply it to life expectancyOr compound interest

Or any number of thingsBut especially population growthBut back in 1798 a guy named Thomas Malthusnoticed that not everything grows this wayPopulation growth was exponential but howmuch food we grow was notThis caused people to worry…Yet, here *we* are today

Because that collapse didn’t happenSo how did we avoid that disaster?That answer is important, because people aredoing *this* again andwe have a new, even scarier disaster to avoidThe first time we defused the population bomb,it was mostly thanks to an agricultural level-upknown as the Green Revolution, and it’sa big reason most people in the world have

Enough to eat todayAt least for nowBecause even though population growth is slowingdown, now we have another new scary line todeal with: Carbon emissions and climate changeThere will be 2 billion more people on Earthby 2050 and three-fourths will be born whereclimate change is going to hit hardest

And because a lot of the food we grow feedsanimals so we can eat them, this much populationgrowth actually means we’ll need this muchmore cropsThis means farmers need to level up againin order to deal with droughts, floods, andgeneralized chaos while still feeding moreand more hungry mouthsIn the mid-20th century, Mexico, Africa, andmuch of South Asia faced starvationA book called The Population Bomb predictedfamines would kill hundreds of millions of

PeopleBut luckily science came to the rescue beforethat could happenResearchers, led by a guy named Norman Borlaug,bred new versions of crops like rice and wheatthat resisted pests and gave larger harvests,which kept starvation at bayInstead of crossing a few plants togetherto try for a new variety, Borlaug crossedthousands and thousands, using crop typesfrom all over the world

He found a wheat variety that made more kernelsper plant, and crossed to make it shorterso those big heads wouldn’t fall overOl’ Norman & friends saved about a billionlives in the processYeah, with a B Somebody give that guy a NobelPrize!From the 60s to the 90s, rice and wheat yieldsdoubled in Asia, food got cheaper, and morepeople got more calories and avoided dying

It was such a big deal, One farmer in Indiaeven named his child after a life-saving ricestrain: IR8How’s the next Green Revolution going towork?Some people think we can hack plant biologyto get out of this pickle, using modern genetictechniques to give plants new traits likedrought, disease, and pest resistanceGenetically modified crops containing helpfulgenes taken from other organisms are already

Common in places like the US and AsiaBut debates over their environmental effectshave kept them out of the ground in placeslike Europe and AfricaAnd while GM crops like pest-killing cornhave lowered pesticide use by 90% in partsof the world, some bugs like rootworms arealready developing resistance to the bacterialtoxin inserted into the corn’s DNA, provingjust how hard it is to stay one step ahead

Of natureMany people think the next Green Revolutionwon’t require this extreme genetic hackingInstead, they believe it’ll mean doing thingsthe same way farmers have done them for   thousandsof years, just doing them better with modernscienceFarmers have followed this ancient recipefor centuries: Select plants with a desiredtrait, cross-pollinate, pick the best offspring,and repeat

Very slow, and not that preciseWouldn’t it be better if we could accuratelypinpoint desirable traits, and control thecross-pollinated offspring to speed up thissame ancient recipe?Researchers have sequenced the complete DNAgenome of several crop species and done justthatIn 2006, scientists identified a rice genecalled sub1

It comes from a variety that doesn’t givemuch yield, but it allows rice plants to surviveunderwater for weeksCross-pollinate that variety with a more deliciousone with a higher yield, and instead of waitingfor them to grow up to see which carry thegene, just screen baby plants’ DNASaves months, even years compared to the oldwayAnd there’s no time to waste, because risingsea levels and more frequent floods are one

Of the most serious impacts of climate changeThe world’s poorest farmers are often onthe most flood-prone land, and rice strainslike this could mean the difference betweenfuture feast or famineBiotechnology like this?It’s just a more high-tech version of whatfarmers have always doneThese new ways of doing old things are showinga lot of promise, but some scientists think

We should go the other direction and be evenmore aggressive with how we hack plant biologyThey’re trying to play with the biologyof photosynthesis itselfCrops like corn and sugarcane do photosynthesisusing 4-carbon molecules, while rice and wheatuse 3-carbon moleculesAnd since C4 plants usually require less waterand fertilizer, scientists are trying to reengineer C3 plants piece by genetic pieceto make more with less in a hotter, drier

WorldThe first Green Revolution saved a billionlives, but it wasn’t perfectAs the same few crop varieties spread aroundthe world, we lost a lot of local food diversityToday most of the world eats the same fewthingsAnd in the process many of the world’s mostvulnerable farmers became dependent on expensiveand  enviromentally-contaminating pesticidesand synthetic fertilizers

Local knowledge built from thousands of yearsof agricultural history was almost lostScience made their lives easier, but it alsoforced them to live a different wayAnd in an uncertain future, that might notworkLike most big scientific problems, the nextGreen Revolution won’t have just one answerIt will involve old knowledge from peoplewho know their land better than anyone else,using new science by people at the cuttingedge of human progress, and probably a few

Crazy, futuristic things we’ve never triedbeforeBecause to keep up with how fast the worldis changing, we have to plant as many ideasas we can in order to keep on growingStay curiousHey guysThis video is made possible by all of ourgreat supporters on Patreon

This video is also made possible by Bill andMelinda GatesI’ve been thinking a lot about milestonesAnd there’s one milestone from the lastyear I can’t get out of my headWhen atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit415 parts per million in 2019I got to visit Hawaii last year when we shota special PBS series called “Stellar”And I could see the Mauna Loa observatory,where they measure the planet’s CO2 levels

On the mountain behind meI couldn’t get it out of my head: We crosseda CO2 threshold our planet hasn’t seen formaybe 3 MILLION yearsIt’s a milestone I would like to not repeatNow that I’m a parent, I know if I don’ttry as hard as I can to help reverse thistrend now, I’ll regret it later

That’s why I keep making climate videoson this channelIt’s why I took a big risk and launcheda whole other channel about climate sciencecalled Hot MessKnowing that I’m working hard to help thefuture keeps me optimisticIt keeps me focused on more hopeful milestonesClimate change isn’t something that’sgoing to go away on its own

It is 100% up to usAnd solving it and adapting to it will meantaking big risks, thinking of bold ideas,like the ones you just heard aboutWe have to swing for the fences, or we willcome up shortBig risks we take today can pave the way forfuture opportunitiesThat’s why this year Bill and Melinda Gatesare sharing reflections on some of the Big

Risks they’ve taken in global health andeducation over the last two decades, and whythey’ll continue making big bets in climateand gender equality in the next twoYou can hear more about what they’re reflectingon, and what big ideas they’ve got in store,in this year’s Annual LetterIt always gives me something new to thinkabout, and I hope you’ll check it outJust check the link down in the description

Thanks, and see you next time

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