Each day, millions of chemical pesticides are dumped on fields of food crops all over the world. Despite the fact that these toxic substances have been shown to contaminate water supplies, create giant dead zones near ocean estuaries, and spawn mutant animals, biotech giants like Monsanto continue to encourage farmers to apply them- liberally.
Searching for a way to help farmers reduce pesticide use has led scientists to an illuminating discovery involving photosensory plants.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee have found a way to genetically program tobacco plants to turn red or produce a fluorescent glow in the presence of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens known to reduce crop yields. If successfully transferred to other food crops, this technology could significantly reduce the amount of pesticides that are applied to protect agricultural production.
From SciDev.net: Instead of planting entire fields with these plants, researchers suggest they could be strategically placed throughout the field, like organic sentries. According to lead researcher Neal Stewart, this would introduce only a small number of GM plants into the environment, so farmers could choose not to harvest them while still benefiting from their pathogen-detecting ability.
"It would be very exciting to partner with research groups in developing countries that might not have access to a lot of pesticides," Stewart told SciDev. "Knowing early on that a plant disease could sweep through might make a big difference to [those] farmers."
What's Stressing You Out?
One of the main drawbacks of this plant technology is that farmers in developing countries might find it hard to care for genetically altered plants. There is also concern that plant responses to different stresses may be too similar to distinguish, and the plants might illuminate because of a problem that pesticides can't solve.