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Designing genes

How can genetic engineering serve U.S. midwestern agricultural sustainability?

Explores the intersection of two critical, but rarely juxtaposed science and policy issues: The path to U.S. agricultural sustainability and the future of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Executive Summary

The WRI White Paper "Designing Genes" explores the intersection of two critical, but rarely juxtaposed science and policy issues: the path to U.S. agricultural sustainability and the future of genetically engineered (GE) crops. These two issues meet in the U.S. Midwest where agriculture is facing critical environmental, social, and economic challenges and where almost 70 million acres, or 34% of the acreage planted in the principal row crops, were planted in genetically engineered crops in 2002. Today there is not a policy and research agenda that addresses the critical intersection of the present challenges and future goals of both agriculture and of genetic engineering.

In Designing Genes, we describe how the approaches of sustainability and product design may be the framework with which to create such an agenda. By designing genetically engineered crops for safety and designing crops for sustainability we may reduce the risks and enhance the benefits of tomorrow's genetically engineered crops. Investment in innovation and design at the front end of the genetically engineered product pipeline may reduce 'end-of-pipe' costs, hazards, controversies, and regulatory burdens while enhancing benefits. Our qualitative analysis suggests the need for a detailed assessment to set actual research and development goals. In addition, there must be a policy context that rewards agricultural sustainability and rewards innovation in genetic engineering design and in ecology-based alternatives to current agricultural methods.

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