The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has outlined in “The Bio Revolution” the current state of innovation in agriculture, aquaculture, and food.
According to MGI, humans have been growing crops and raising animals for thousands of years using a evolving set of tools and techniques. Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have used tools like selective breeding to develop certain traits. Recent biological advances build on this history, giving humans new tools to use in food systems. These could enable a leap to entirely new business models and value chains, shift methods of production, and introduce new forms of genetic variation.
In the 1990s, genetic engineering emerged commercially to improve the traits of plants (ie. yields) beyond traditional breeding. The first wave of genetically engineered crops have been referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or organisms with foreign (transgenic) genetic material introduced. Now, recent advances in genetic engineering (such as CRISPR) have enabled highly specific cisgenic changes (using genes from sexually compatible plants) and intragenic changes (altering gene combinations and regulatory sequencings belonging to the recipient plant).
Global population is expected to grow by roughly two billion by 2050, and more than 820 million people do not have enough to eat. Continuing innovation is vital to sustainably feed the world. Food production puts a huge strain on natural resources. For example, raising animals for meat, eggs, and milk generates 14.5% of GHG emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Biological sciences addresses these challenges in a number of ways, including markerassisted
breeding, genetic engineering, application of insights from microbiome sequencing, and modification of the microbiome through new treatments. In addition, there is potential in developing alternative proteins and using omics to improve food safety.
The timing of adoption will vary. Genetic editing through CRISPR is being applied to food, at an early stage. Novel plant-based protein has been commercialized. In the U.S., plant-based protein sales grew by 14% in 2019 versus the previous year, hitting $1 billion; in comparison, meat sales were virtually stagnant at growth of 0.8%. Lab-grown meat is at an earlier stage; its science and production are more complex, and it remains expensive compared with traditional meat from animals.