By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 50% increase over today’s levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5% hottest days from 1950–1979. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Botany suggests that genetically engineered soybeans may yield more when subjected to both increased temperature and carbon dioxide levels in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions. However, the researchers found little to no difference between the modified and unmodified crops grown in either increased temperature, increased carbon dioxide, or today’s climate conditions.
Researchers conducted a three-year field study at SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment—a U.S. facility that emulates future atmospheric conditions to understand the impact on Midwestern crops. The results suggest that we can harness genetic changes to help offset the detrimental effects of rising temperature.
“Our climate system and atmosphere are not changing in isolation from other factors—there are actually multiple facets,” said Carl Bernacchi, an associate professor of plant biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. “The effect of carbon dioxide in and of itself seems to be very generalized, but neglects the complexity of adding temperature into the mix. This research is one step in the right direction towards trying to figure out a way of mitigating those temperature-related yield losses that will likely occur even with rising carbon dioxide concentrations.”