HomeDomestic NewsNew research project aims to develop climate-resilient food using ancient DNA

New research project aims to develop climate-resilient food using ancient DNA

A new research project led by the well-known DNA researcher Eske Willerslev will utilize ancient DNA to develop climate-resilient foods. The project, supported by Novo Nordisk Foundation with up to 585 million Danish kroner over the next seven years, aims to strengthen crops at a time when climate change threatens global food production. An additional 85 million Danish kroner has been provided by the Wellcome Trust, Novo Nordisk Foundation said in a press release.

The research initiative, called Aegis, will bring together researchers from around the world to study soil samples and uncover how nature has historically adapted to climate change. The goal is to identify mutations and species compositions that can make today’s crops more resistant to changing climate conditions. Eske Willerslev, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Cambridge, explains that soil samples can contain DNA that is up to two million years old. This ancient DNA can reveal early adaptations that have helped plants survive previous climate changes.

“The earth has been subjected to many climate changes over time, and it has adapted. By extracting DNA from old soil, we can find these adaptations that made the plants more viable,” says Willerslev. The goal of the research program is to demonstrate that it is possible to adapt agricultural crops to specific climate conditions by adjusting the composition of microorganisms and fungi in the ecosystem or by altering the DNA of crops.

“My hope is that we can tailor both agricultural plants and the ecosystems around the plants to many different climate conditions. Both for places where it becomes very wet, very dry, or if one wants to grow crops further north,” explains Willerslev. The significant grant from Novo Nordisk Foundation will accelerate the project’s progress by enabling more simultaneous research activities, instead of researchers having to wait for new funding rounds between different phases.

“It is crucial for us to speed up the project. It is an issue that we are already facing and which is expected to create famine within the next 10-15 years,” says Eske Willerslev. Novo Nordisk Foundation, which owns a large share of Novo Nordisk’s stocks and holds the majority of the votes, supports scientific, humanitarian, and social purposes with a focus on promoting human health and planetary sustainability.

Read the danish version here

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