In the Year 2020, Part II: Biotechnology and Genetics

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Genetically Modified CropsHow Offal!

Food is, of course, a major issue. Yet our experts agree – through advances in genetic crop engineering, more efficient farming, and also a reduced reliance on meat, hunger likely won’t become a global epidemic. Indeed, food production systems might actually benefit the most, at least in the near future, from biotech and genetics research.

Without the red tape and ethical dilemmas surrounding experimentation on humans, the production of meat may benefit from advancements before humans do. “Different organisms process input calories toward different efficiencies. Can you imagine if there was an animal as efficient at getting calories into meat as a chicken, but tasted like beef?” asks Khan. And the results won’t always be pretty. “I hear the Chinese are working on what I like to call ‘meat things,’ basically organisms that take offal (entrails and other animal parts that are generally considered inedible) into their maw, process them into flesh, and discard the waste.”

“There will be modest improvements in standard grain crops through genetic engineering techniques. But I suspect a bigger change might be seen in forms of aquaculture – growing algae to process for food, and fish farming. Fish farming especially will probably have taken off by 2020, we’re almost there with tuna now.”

According to Frey, the ongoing research and development of “smart foods” will radically alter our eating habits and customs. “The future of foods is smart foods,” Frey says. “The food industry will resemble the body’s metabolism. Science will create real-time reactive sensors in our bodies that can read everything from the fluctuation of brainwaves, to micro changes in heartbeats, to gastro-digestive processes, to variations of skin perspiration rates. This constant monitoring of hundreds if not thousands of bodily nuances will bring about healthier food choices and, more importantly, choices tailored specifically to an individual’s needs. The sensors will need to interface with an equally nuanced supply chain to meet the needs of this next generation, hyper-individualized consumer.”

Further on Down the Road

Frey sees 2030, not 2020, as a time when we’ll likely see a quantum shift in our food production and delivery system. “In the home of 2030, a personal monitoring system will generate a grocery list based on the anticipated needs and stated desires of that individual. Food orders will then be placed either automatically, or with as much control as the person desires. The order will go to the local food supplier, who will be in constant communication with regional suppliers, and they will be in constant communication with the food producers. The entire supply chain architecture will be wired to the needs of the end user.”

That means a crop will no longer be truckloads and truckloads of the same thing. “Farmers will become expert at producing ‘jacked-in’ food stocks with countless variations, managed through computerized processes designed to manipulate the end results,” says Frey. “Controls will be exercised along a broad spectrum, from environmental conditions such as light, water, and oxygen levels in the air to genetic manipulation, according to approved safety guidelines.”

“By 2030, a farm or ranch will adopt technologies that leave today’s operations far behind. Ultra-high-tech farms of the future will generate exotic half-plant, half-animal vegetation as well as crystalline plants, air plants, and generic non-species plants designed for post-harvest flavor and nutrient infusions.”

NanotechLearning to Live with Living Longer

A new set of tools for manipulating both our food and ourselves will bring with it a whole bundle of ethical dilemmas. For instance, what complications can we expect when a population eats better, receives personalized medical care on an unprecedented level, reaps the health benefits of nano-scale research, and ultimately lives appreciably longer? When is a person’s condition – either through accident or some other unforeseen circumstance – simply too far gone to reclaim? What of those who harbor criminal attitudes? Can they be re-wired? Can we possibly fill our jails any more than they already are?

Frey points to all of the above and warns, “These may seem like distant concerns, but change is coming – this time, at lightning speed. In the past, advances for cures for even minor diseases moved glacially. From Leeuwenhoek’s invention of the microscope in the late 1600s to Louis Pasteur’s discovery of germs, the great achievement took centuries. Today, breakthroughs are arriving at greater speed, and accelerating to the point where barriers to near immortality are falling daily. We don’t have the luxury of mulling such matters for decades.”

Check out Part I and Part III in our series about life in the year 2020.

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