Young seniors looking back from 2050 to June 2021:

Genetic technology for agriculture

Text: Derk Wiersma ‘Finalist Nationale Scheikunde Olympiade 2021’  Photojan kopriva
10 june 2050

Last time I promised to talk in this column about the things I've worked on during my career. In addition to my 25th anniversary, 2050 is also the year for which our ancestors agreed that global CO2 emissions had to be reduced by 95% compared to 1990.


Text:
Derk Wiersma  
‘Finalist Nationale Scheikunde Olympiade 2021’
Photo:
Jan Kopriva

From the early 1940s, we also shifted focus to the optimum curve of enzymatic activity, in order to be able to grow plants in other climates.

To start with, I was broadly interested, but especially the use of genetic technology to improve agriculture appealed to me. Therefore, during my studies at the University of Groningen, I started researching the photo inhibition of photosystem II with a group of classmates. This got stuck in the beginning, mainly because it is a complex and very precisely tuned system, but also partly because we wanted to take too big steps. Still, our teachers kept their faith in the research and, with some help from one of the professors, our research team made a breakthrough by developing a more efficient enzymatic repair mechanism for certain types of damage to the photosynthesis system. This turned out to be a successful step in developing new plants that give higher yields with lower CO2 emissions (from the use of tractor fuel, etc.).

After my studies, I started a career at BASF in 2025. There I collaborated with scientists from all over the world and with my team studied the attack mechanisms of different types of viruses and fungi on crops at the molecular level. Our team used this information to develop genetically modified crops and more effective pesticides. The major breakthrough in the field of CO2 reduction was of course achieved through further development of battery technologies and environmentally friendly sources of electricity, such as solar cells, wind turbines and nuclear power plants (for the latter, a study friend of mine did a good job with the development of new chemical reprocessing processes).

From the early 1940s, we also shifted focus to the optimum curve of enzymatic activity, in order to be able to grow plants in other climates. There were also setbacks here, of course, but because your department is larger and is busy with several things at the same time, it still feels more like a temporary standstill than a major setback like it did at uni. Of course, not everything went smoothly in the rest of the world either, we recently had that nuclear winter due to that incident with that *** country. Almost the entire food supply went down, but luckily I was able to adapt the new cocoa plant we were just developing for this by adding a gene (picked from a kale plant at home) to its DNA to make it resistant to night frost. We also managed to considerably limit the absorption of radioactive strontium, making the plant safe to eat (bone decalcification due to a lack of the chemically very similar calcium is a possible risk now). This, together with the fact that sugar cane can still grow in South America, means that everyone's diet now consists mainly of chocolate. That could have been worse. And we have certainly achieved the target of a maximum temperature increase of 1.5°C.