Domesticated crops were modified to resist pests and increase the crop’s yield. This modification, combined with chemical sprays, may have destroyed these crops’ immune systems.
Much like how superbugs have evolved to further threaten the human immune system,domesticated plants cannot fight off disease and other pests on their own.
But a team of scientists from Mexico and Sweden are looking for a way for domesticated plants to regain a healthy immune system.
Wild plants use nectars and odors as defensive tools. These tools help to discourage pests or encourage the predators of pests. However, these tools are not found in domesticated crop plants. This is because people do not like the way these tools taste or look.
These defensive traits make the fruit of some plants inedible or bad tasting. To help make the fruit safer and more appealing to eat, plant ecologists have bred out toxicity, hairiness, toughness and bitterness.
Without these tools, a plant is left to defend itself on its own. As a result, domesticated plants need help from pesticides to help guard against bugs.
But pesticides are bad for people. Using chemicals for pest control harms water and it also damages the health of people who consume them when eating foods sprayed with pesticides. Activists have long called for the elimination of pesticides. But until now, scientists have not found a way to meet this demand without sacrificing years of food harvests.
Now that sustainable agriculture has become a priority for many consumers, there has been more interest in developing crops that have an immune system.
This will happen through a process called “rewilding.” Researchers intend to use a mix of planting techniques and agricultural technology to make it happen.
However, now that these defensive tools are gone, it is hard to breed them back into the crops. These natural plant defenses are the result of several genes. It is not a matter of replacing what is lost.
Scientists are also considering planting defensive plants next to food crops to protect them.
This is unlikely to be popular with farmers. As a result, scientists are in a double bind. They must learn how to make plants sturdy in a way that is still amenable to industrial farming. It will take some time, but sceientists are working in this problem.