Candide Cuttings: Urban Crops, Butterfly Monitoring and Gene Editing

Published on March 14th 2019
A woman watering her plants in an urban garden

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Urban Agriculture Revolution

A new £800,000 study is to look into whether UK food production can be increased by drastically upscaling fruit and vegetable growing in urban environments.
Funded by the Global Food security programme, Rurban Revolution is a two-year interdisciplinary project beginning in April 2019. It will involve researchers from Cranfield University, the University of Liverpool and Lancaster University and will have two stages.
Stage one will involve collecting data about current land use and climate suitability for growing different crops. It will also look at models and supply chains that could make urban growing a reality.
The second stage will focus on a comparison between two areas that have differing climates, farming traditions and socio-economic profiles. Scenarios will then be generated on how the areas could be ‘rurbanised’ and used in virtual reality experiments.
Dr Jess Davies, Lecturer in Sustainability at Lancaster and principal investigator on the project, said: “The ultimate aim is to produce an evidence base for researchers and policymakers on the potential and impact of radical ‘rurbanisation’, and a ‘Rurban Roadmap’ on how the transformation could take place,”

Butterfly Monitoring

A new cross-partnership pilot project will look at population trends in butterflies across Europe as an indicator of environmental health. Results will inform EU biodiversity and agricultural policies.
Assessing Butterflies in Europe (ABLE) is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation (UK), Butterfly Conservation Europe, Dutch Butterfly Conservation, The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK) and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Germany).
These organisations, with the help of thousands of volunteers, already monitor butterfly populations in 11 countries. The new partnership will expand monitoring to cover eight additional EU countries.
Trends will help inform the common agricultural policy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. They will also contribute to the EU Pollinator Initiative that assesses the health of Europe’s pollinators.
Dr Chris van Swaay, Chair of Butterfly Conservation Europe, said: "Butterflies represent insects which are vital parts of the food chain as well as being important pollinators. There has been widespread concern about the decline of insects in recent years and the project will give us a more comprehensive assessment across several EU Countries."
A close up of a painted lady butterfly on a flower

Gene Editing

Several recent papers have outlined new methods of gene editing to reduce the time needed to breed new varieties of crops.
Researchers from Syngenta, one of the world’s leading agriculture companies, have discovered a gene-editing technique that combines haploid induction, a process that occurs naturally in crops like wheat and corn, with the gene editing technique CRISPR.
It will allow growers to modify seeds at various stages of their research and development, saving time and money.
Modifying plant genes requires new DNA to enter the cells. A second research paper has outlined a new, more efficient way of doing this using tiny tubes of stiff carbon. By attaching DNA to these, scientists can create a ‘nano-needle’’.
This only affects a single cell for a few days. The research is in its early days, but if used to deliver gene editing tools like CRISPR, could create an efficient way to switch off genes that cause undesirable traits in plants.
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