Growing the Digital Field
Plug in. Switch on. Go online.
Actions that are now such a big part of our daily routine that we take them for granted.
As touched upon in last week’s blog post, technology is playing an increasing role in how we live our lives, directing new industrial methods and even nature. In the digital world, the wires can feel like a lifeline, and for many there is a common feeling of dependency when connecting our smartphones, tablets and laptops… and our fruit and vegetables.
In America, scientists are using a digital connection to save iconic crops, such as the orange, from becoming infected with citrus greening. Beyond that, we must understand that the plant world enables efficient biofuel production, which in turn provides the energy and the food needed to survive.
This is a point that has been emphasised by Adina Mangubat, Co-founder and CEO ofSpiral Genetics; a bioinformatics company based in Seattle, USA. Spiral Genetics is developing ‘cloud-based genomics’ algorithms for plants that can be downloaded via the net. By sequencing the genomes of plants, we can interpret the information to better understand the evolution of a crop and ultimately improve it – resulting in bigger, tastier produce with the ability to resist disease and drought.
An industry that could potentially benefit from DNA analysis is the growing Oil Palm trade. The world’s palm oil plantations are producing up to 64 million tons a year in order to bring everyday products to your household. The environmental impact of this is severe and the growth of the industry is having a negative impact on many species, and also the Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing crop yield is one way to combat mass deforestation. Research into the oil palm genome has already decoded possibilities for helping farmers to produce more oil on less land. Scientists have discovered a single gene, called SHELL, which can influence how much oil the tree produces. Mutating SHELL can raise the yield of the palm by as much as 30 percent.
These breakthroughs in the field of bionic agriculture are advancing existing practices of precision agriculture, such as robotic milking and cloud-based computer technology to manage herd health, and directed planting. Traditional industries are increasingly being overhauled by the digital revolution and there is a new age of farmers who are converting their traditional methods to new agricultural technologies. Equipment is expensive, but there are many benefits to reap from investing in the new, and when spread across a wealth of acres the cost per unit of production comes down noticeably. There is an opportunity here to reduce input costs, increase production and cultivate quality, but most importantly there is an opportunity to join in the race to save some of the most in-demand products in the world.