What we wanted to see with our project
In New Zealand, 91% of kiwifruit growers cite winter temperatures as the greatest threat to crop yield. Source: Cradock-Henry, N. (2017).
Cold temperatures can stunt growth, cause severe plant damage, and even kill growing plants, making them a severe risk to the industry that needs to be addressed.
While there are potential treatments, as shown in the image, we think there is another way to reduce the impact of frost.
Our vision is to have crop plants that do not require these costly interventions in order to be protected from winter temperatures.
We hope that in time farmers will not fear the oncoming of winter, or have their livelihood threatened by a sudden frost. Genetic engineering provides an avenue for this.
Frost resistance genes, in the form of Ice Recrystallisation Inhibition Proteins and Antifreeze Proteins, are well documented in many species, both plants and animals and can be used to protect crop plants from the kind of damage caused by cold without the need for other interventions.
We hope to improve crop yields, therefore reducing waste and making better use of the farmland that is in current use. We want to make it possible to grow crops in colder, or more unstable environments than it is currently possible to do, through improving the cold tolerance of these plants. We hope this would lift some of the limitations imposed on farmers by cold winter temperatures.
Fig1. shows a Négociant in Bordeaux, France lighting candles to protect his grapes from frost. This shows the lengths growers will go protect their livelihoods. Source
Current methods of frost protection are expensive, labour intensive, and are often ineffective. These methods include selectively breeding for frost resistance traits, adding frost covers, setting up gas heaters or candles (as shown), using fans or helicopters to churn up the air, and using sprinklers to naturally insulate the crops as the water freezes. Unfortunately, each method comes with its own limitations. We hope that genetics could be the answer to this.