Nicola J. Patron
World population is growing by 74 million people per year. We may need to produce as much as 70 percent more food by 2050 without increasing agricultural resources. Bioengineering is not a silver bullet for preventing food scarcity—synthetic biology cannot make the rain come or ensure fair distribution of food, but it can be used to detect and respond to disease outbreaks, reduce the use of agrochemicals, and improve nutritional value. Laboratories worldwide pursue plant biotechnology, yet most biotech crops on the market are aimed at increasing margins in developed economies. The fact that just a few companies control much of global agriculture undoubtedly fuels resistance to bioengineering. At the same time, the strategic use of patent rights has delayed the uptake of some technologies, and the need to navigate extensive suites of proprietary technologies has curbed entrepreneurship. In order for plant bioengineering to flourish and address grand challenges, we must confront questions of ownership, facilitate access to genetic sequences and enabling technologies, and promote locally led solutions.
Open Source Foundational Tools
The debate on plant biotechnology has been heavily influenced by questions of ownership as well as by disillusionment in the engineered traits that have reached market. At the same time, the strategic use of patent rights has delayed the uptake of some technologies, and the need to navigate thickets of proprietary technologies has curbed entrepreneurship. I aim to assess current models of ownership and access to enabling technologies and to pursue the creation of alternatives that can be openly shared, particularly in less-developed world regions. I will also engage with legal, regulatory and political mechanisms that determine access and benefit sharing to plant biotechnologies and genetic resources.