Scientific and technological advancement, though crucial to making progress, are just part of the food system. Human behavior, economics, policy, and regulations are among the many other factors at play. For example, whether or not a new technology will be adopted is dependent on such factors as shifts in resource use and market effects and response. Transdisciplinary problem-based collaborations that take a systems approach for advancing our understanding of all the interacting elements in the food system, represents a breakthrough opportunity to increase the systems overall efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.
For decades, sensing technology has been used in agriculture, food production, and distribution systems to take periodic measurements of conditions such as temperature. Today, novel nanosensors, biosensors, and related advances present a breakthrough opportunity to continuously monitor multiple conditions simultaneously to detect pathogens and stresses that might cause harm, and to monitor and make decisions in real time.
Aided by genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, the use of gene editing can speed the selection of traits for breeding that will engender organisms with greater productivity, disease or drought resistance, nutritional value, and palatability. The ability to accelerate routine gene editing of agriculturally important organisms presents a breakthrough opportunity for precise and rapid improvement of plant, animal, and microbe traits.
The food and agricultural system collects an enormous amount of data—from data generated in research labs to data gathered in the field. Data is only valuable, however, if it is useful for decision-making, but the data generated has been maintained in an unconnected manner, preventing the ability to generate insights from that integration. Advances in our ability to more quickly collect, analyze, store, share, and integrate highly heterogeneous datasets presents a breakthrough opportunity to vastly improve understanding of the complex food system and to create better models that, ultimately, will support real-time data-driven management approaches.
While exploration of the human microbiome is beginning to accelerate, understanding of the microbiomes in agriculture—animals, plants, and soil—are markedly more rudimentary. Yet better understanding of the molecular-level interactions between soil, plant, and animal microbiota could revolutionize agriculture by improving, for example, nutrient availability and resiliency to stress and disease.
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