Facing an uncertain, climate-altered future, here is how scientists are revamping crops

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Credit: Princeton
Credit: Princeton
[A new wheat variety called] Kernza brings higher yields and can contain more seeds per stem than average wheat. And the crop is perennial, meaning it returns each year without the need for tilling and replanting. That helps keep carbon in the ground and cuts down on the need for chemical herbicides. 

Kernza is just one example of what seems poised to be the next wave of agricultural innovation. Custom crops — hybridized through breeding programs or tweaked with genetic engineering technologies to deliver higher yields while withstanding more extreme environmental conditions — have become more prevalent (and more sophisticated) than ever before. 

The newest modified crops are arriving just in time: Climate change puts farmers around the world under increasing pressure as droughts and heatwaves intensify and precipitation patterns become more erratic. 

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The crops of the future may not look very different from the ones we eat today. Corn will likely be yellow, and apples may remain red. But changes to the plants that create them, whether that involves making them hardier in the face of droughts or immune to viruses and fungi, are already underway in labs and farm fields around the world. 

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