Growing scientific evidence demonstrates unprecedented planetary-scale human impacts on the Earth’s system with a predicted threat to the existence of the terrestrial biosphere due to population increase, resource depletion, and pollution. Food systems account for 21–34% of global carbon dioxide (CO2
) emissions. Over the past half-century, water and land-use changes have significantly impacted ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, and climate. At the same time, food production is falling behind consumption, and global grain reserves are shrinking. Some predictions suggest that crop yields must approximately double by 2050 to adequately feed an increasing global population without a large expansion of crop area. To achieve this, “quantum-leap” improvements in crop cultivar productivity are needed within very narrow planetary boundaries of permissible environmental perturbations. Strategies for such a “quantum-leap” include mutation breeding and genetic engineering of known crop genome sequences. Synthetic biology makes it possible to synthesize DNA fragments of any desired sequence, and modern bioinformatics tools may hopefully provide an efficient way to identify targets for directed modification of selected genes responsible for known important agronomic traits. CRISPR/Cas9 is a new technology for incorporating seamless directed modifications into genomes; it is being widely investigated for its potential to enhance the efficiency of crop production. We consider the optimism associated with the new genetic technologies in terms of the complexity of most agronomic traits, especially crop yield potential (Yp) limits. We also discuss the possible directions of overcoming these limits and alternative ways of providing humanity with food without transgressing planetary boundaries. In conclusion, we support the long-debated idea that new technologies are unlikely to provide a rapidly growing population with significantly increased crop yield. Instead, we suggest that delicately balanced humane measures to limit its growth and the amount of food consumed per capita are highly desirable for the foreseeable future.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited