How is biotechnology helping to feed and fuel the world?

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How is biotechnology helping to feed and fuel the world?

In the final episode of Season 2, we are journeying into the world of agricultural biotechnology to learn how scientists are helping to feed and fuel the world. But first, what is biotechnology?

For many, hearing the word ‘biotechnology’ immediately brings forth images of vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, and genetic engineering technology. While these are definitely important feats of biotechnology, it actually encompasses so much more than that.

Simply put, biotechnology makes use of biological systems and organisms to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. Biotechnology plays a key role in protecting our planet’s resources, driving a strong economy, and enhancing people’s lives. It is predicted that by the year 2050 the world’s population will be 9.7 billion people, nearly 2 billion more than we currently have on our planet. 

These people will depend on biotechnological innovation to create viable ways to produce the food we grow, the materials we use, and the fuel that helps transport us. Biotechnology gives us solutions derived from nature that drive food and farm innovation, biobased manufacturing, and the utilization of cleaner energy. 

Listen to Tiny Expeditions Season 2, Episode 6: “How is biotechnology helping to feed and fuel the world?” to learn some of the roles that biotechnology plays in the plant and agricultural fields, and how scientists are using science and technology to help feed and fuel earth’s growing population.

Behind the Scenes

Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD (pictured left), is passionate about using the genomic technologies available to her to help build a more sustainable future. A lot of the work that she and her lab currently pursue is focused on creating more productive and efficient plants for use in bioenergy.

Our trip to the Swaminathan dirt lab and growth rooms allowed us to see two of these plants in person—the grasses Miscanthus and sorghum. The first stop of our tour was the dirt lab. The researchers call it this because it is the space where plants from the field are brought for analysis. As you can imagine, a lot of these plants are dirty, hence the name dirt lab.

In the dirt lab, we met two of Dr. Swaminathan’s lab members. Pradeep Hirannaiah, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab. Wren Jenkins is an undergraduate student intern in the lab. Wren and Pradeep were phenotyping many stalks of dried grass to see which plants possessed desirable traits for use as bioenergy feedstock (pictured in the bottom left image).

After we left the dirt lab we walked down the hall to the growth rooms. These rooms allow researchers to grow plants indoors under conditions that mimic being in the field. Precision controls allow the researchers to control the lights, humidity, and temperature to create specific environments based on their experimental needs. As you heard on the episode, the growth room we entered was loud, bright, and very humid (images on the right). The sorghum seemed to like it because it was thriving and growing beautifully.

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