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Gene editing has a role to play in reducing emissions

Gene editing has a crucial role to play in reducing emissions to deal with climate change, BiotechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion says.

The issues and benefits of gene editing must accelerate discussions by the biotech industry and academic researchers to convince the public that gene editing of crops is pivotal in helping climate change, she says.

Dr Champion says New Zealand is not going to reach its climate change emissions target through existing technologies alone.

Several city councils, including the Auckland Council, have declared a climate emergency with Auckland making climate change an urgent priority. But what are they actually doing to tackle climate emergency, she says.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government isn't opposed to proposing a climate emergency while the National Party's climate change spokesperson isn't sure what that would achieve. New Zealand is facing unprecedented challenges from the effects of a changing climate.

“Globally, climate change will increase existing risks, including the spread of pests and disease, threats to food security, and social disruption. These hazards will impact whole communities, severely strain critical public infrastructure and result in unprecedented social, ecological, and economic losses,” Dr Champion says.

“Biotech is the use of biological systems found in organisms or the use of the living organisms themselves to make tech advances and adapt them in various fields from the agriculture to the medical sector.

“So how can biotech help New Zealand as a country limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels? The task for biotech to mitigate global warming could be by genetically modifying cows to help cut methane emissions by 50 percent.

“A new strain of ryegrass developed in New Zealand promises to reduce water demands and curb emissions.

“Another Kiwi company, Lanzatech, is recycling carbon from industrial off-gases to reduce emissions and boost the economy.

“While our scientist are tackling solutions to reduce climate change, they need to be addressing the global challenge of feeding 10 billion people by 2050. Producing improved crops is essential so there are resilient in coping with drought, cold, salt and low phosphorous conditions.

“Right now, New Zealand, without the use of gene editing, needs to activate the technology we have. Research by New Zealand company Zest Biotech shows there is a direct correlation between feed intake and reduced methane emissions.

“Nitrous oxide is an important greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, because it has a long atmospheric lifetime of more than 100 years. Managing and improving use of nitrogen fertiliser is the best way to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.”

The planting of billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

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