The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $189,794 grant to the Alliance for Science at the Boyce Thompson Institute to effectively communicate the advances being made by researchers using gene editing tools to improve sustainable agriculture. The Alliance provided matching funds for a total $760,271 investment.
A recent study found that most Americans rate their knowledge about gene editing and genetic modification in food as very low to below average. However, another study found that despite this lack of knowledge, most believe the technology will bring benefits.
Biotechnology can improve harvests and animal welfare, while also reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment. Genetically engineered crops have the potential to make crops more resilient to climate change and reduce the use of synthetic fertilizer, a major source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
FFAR invests in a range of research technologies, including projects that use biotechnology and gene editing to make agriculture more sustainable, protect biodiversity and ensure that the world has sufficient food to feed a growing population. Through this award, the Alliance for Science, a global communications initiative, is amplifying FFAR-funded research and programs.
“FFAR envisions a world where everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food grown on thriving farms. To achieve this vision, we need to employ all available tools and technologies, from organics to biotechnology. Among our many projects developing gene editing tools, technologies and strategies, several of our scientific workforce development programs, like the FFAR Fellows program and the Vet Fellows, are spearheading this critical research to revolutionize our global food supply,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “The Alliance for Science grant is helping us bridge communications gaps to better inform the public about the benefits of this research.”
Dr. Sarah Evanega, a BTI professor who founded and directs the Alliance for Science, commented, “Much of our communications and outreach work has focused on South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. We’re excited to turn our attention to our own backyard, helping Americans understand the pivotal role that biotechnology can play in addressing key challenges of our time.”
The Alliance for Science is developing and implementing a communications plan to elevate the work of FFAR beneficiaries, like the RIPE project, which is optimizing crop productivity by enhancing photosynthetic processes.
The Alliance for Science is also conducting several training courses, including a session to familiarize U.S. journalists with gene editing research currently under way and introduce them to leading scientists in the field. Specifically, FFAR and the Alliance are collaborating on a training session at Tuskegee University, an 1890 Land-Grant Institution, to engage young people in science communication and inspire them to pursue careers in plant biotechnology.
“Tuskegee University is delighted to partner with the Alliance for Science in their FFAR-funded project to communicate the potential of gene editing in agriculture to stakeholders,” said Channa Prakash, dean of Tuskegee’s College of Arts & Sciences. “We have a long history of outreach on farming since the time of George Washington Carver here. We will especially reach out to underserved communities of color, and network with other 1890-land grant universities in this effort.”
Added Evanega, “As part of our shared mission, we are hoping to inspire students and young professionals to continue their engagement in this cutting-edge field and increase advancement opportunities for under-represented minorities.”