The next era of crop domestication starts now
Publication: PNAS Vol. 20 No. 14
This collaborative paper, which includes research from The Land Institute’s Ecosphere Studies and Perennial Oilseeds Programs, highlights the need to apply tools and technologies toward domestication efforts that equally consider the needs of crops, ecosystems, and humans to achieve genetic, agroecosystem, and food system diversity.
Current food systems are challenged by relying on a few input-intensive, staple crops. The prioritization of yield and the loss of diversity during the recent history of domestication has created contemporary crops and cropping systems that are ecologically unsustainable, vulnerable to climate change, nutrient-poor, and socially inequitable. For decades, scientists have proposed diversity as a solution to address these challenges to global food security. Here, we outline the possibilities for a new era of crop domestication, focused on broadening the palette of crop diversity, that engages and benefits the three elements of domestication: crops, ecosystems, and humans. We explore how the suite of tools and technologies at hand can be applied to renew diversity in existing crops, improve underutilized crops, and domesticate new crops to bolster genetic, agroecosystem, and food system diversity. Implementing the new era of domestication requires that researchers, funders, and policymakers boldly invest in basic and translational research. Humans need more diverse food systems in the Anthropocene—the process of domestication can help build them.