If you’re a french fry lover (guilty), you may have had a mild panic attack this week when news broke that a potato shortage could affect spud supplies. Unusually cold weather in the U.S. and Canada ruined some potato crops, leading to concerns that diminished supply and high demand could lead to a price spike in ‘taters — and a scarcity of french fries.
You don’t need to start stockpiling fries just yet. The New York Times walked back these tater-related fears, noting that consumers “probably shouldn’t worry so much,” and that their french fry suppliers would likely be able to keep up with demand.
This isn’t an isolated incident. With climate change making weather all the more extreme and unpredictable, it’s likely many crops — potatoes and otherwise — will be affected.
One potential solution could be gene editing technologies like CRISPR. Scientists can use these technologies to manipulate the DNA of plants to make them have higher yields and be more resilient to extreme weather conditions. Gene editing is also faster, more accurate, and cheaper than using genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
If you think that sounds like science fiction… well, it does. But gene editing technology could also be the answer to keeping us in our favorite foods even as populations rise and ocean temperatures rise.
Scientists are already using it to shore up staple crops against the threat of climate change. Yield10, an agriculture bioscience company is developing gene edited seeds for, among other things, potatoes. Companies are also developing new strains of staples like rice and corn that are drought resistant and produce more yield even under harsh weather conditions.
Gene editing can also help non-edible foods become edible; recently scientists figured out how to tweak cotton seeds to make them safe to eat (they’re naturally poisonous).
Similar to GMO’s, gene editing foods, including those made with CRISPR, can be pretty controversial. But as climate change worsens and soil conditions deteriorate, we’ll need to harness a wide variety of agricultural technologies — like gene editing, AI, and maybe even vertical farming — if we want to keep french fries on the menu. That seems reason enough to keep an open mind towards gene editing.