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Editor's Choice Series: The Next Generation of Biotech Crops
Susan J. Martino-Catt Monsanto Company
Member of Plant Physiology Editorial Board

Crop genetic modification using traditional methods has been essential for improving food quality and abundance; however, farmers globally are steadily increasing the area planted to crops improved with modern biotechnology. Breakthroughs in science and genetics have expanded the toolbox of genes available for reducing biotic stressors, such as weeds, pests, and disease, which reduce agricultural productivity. Today, plant scientists are leveraging traditional and modern approaches in tandem to increase crop yields, quality, and economic returns, while reducing the environmental consequences associated with the consumption of natural resources, such as water, land, and fertilizer, for agriculture.

The current need to accelerate agricultural productivity on a global scale has never been greater or more urgent. At the same time, the need to implement more sustainable approaches to conserve natural resources and preserve native habitats is also of paramount importance. The challenge for the agricultural sector is to: (1) deliver twice as much food in 2050 as is produced today (Food and Agricultural Organization of the World Health Organization, 2002 ). Any differences are subjected to an extensive evaluation to determine whether there are any associated health or environmental risks, and, if so, whether the identified risks can be mitigated though preventative management.
Biotech crops undergo detailed phenotypic, agronomic, morphological, and compositional analyses to identify potential harmful effects that could affect product safety. This process is a rigorous and robust assessment that is applicable to the next generation of biotech crops that potentially could include genetic changes that modulate the expression of one gene, several genes, or entire pathways. The safety assessment will characterize the nature of the inserted molecules, as well as their function and effect within the plant and the overall safety of the resulting crop. This well-established and proven process will provide assurance of the safety of the next generation of biotech crops and help to reinforce rational approaches that enable the development and commercial use of new products that are critical to meeting agriculture's challenges.

This issue of Plant Physiology begins a 3-month Editor's Choice Series focused on the next generation of biotech crops. The intent of this series is to provide readers with an updated view of the opportunities and challenges that will be faced as we move into the next generations of commercialized biotech crops. As part of this series, several articles will be featured that discuss various technological approaches that will be important in generating these new GM crops, such as RNA interference, protein engineering, and plant transcription factors. Articles focused on stress-tolerant crops, including virus-resistant papaya (Carica papaya), drought-tolerant maize (Zea mays), environmental risk assessments of stress-tolerant crops, and quantitative trait loci approaches to complex traits, will also be featured. The final set of articles are focused around nutritionally enhanced crops, including a general overview as well as specific articles on altered oils and altered amino acid content. Additionally, review articles discussing the impact of global climate change on agricultural production and molecular breeding approaches are also included in the series. Hopefully you have already noticed the special cover that has been designed for this May issue to kick off the series. The cover features a stunning holographic image of a DNA molecule superimposed on a crop field. This graphic is intended to depict the next generation of biotech crops that will be developed with the knowledge gained from our continued exploration into the secrets of plant genomes as a way to further enhance modern agriculture.

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