Scientists explored ways biotechnology could provide healthy and plentiful animal-based foods to meet future demands of an immensely swelling world population, at a recent symposium.
University of Idaho animal scientist Rod Hill and Larry Branen, a University of Idaho food scientist, organized the symposium.
Synthetic biology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and other applications of biotechnology - and the public's role in determining their acceptable uses - were all addressed by panelists during the session.
The goal for the session was to encourage a dialogue among scientists and the public, according to Hill, a Moscow-based molecular physiologist who studies muscle growth in cattle.
"There will be a significant challenge for agriculture and the science that will be required to provide a healthy, nutritious and adequate food supply in coming decades for a rapidly growing population," Hill said.
"A key question is whether the Earth can continue to provide enough food without technological support," he said.
The history of civilization and agriculture during the last 10,000 years suggests otherwise.
"Unaided food production is an unattainable ideal - current society is irrevocably grounded in the technological interventions underpinning the agricultural revolution that now strives to feed the world," Hill said.
Nanoparticles may be used to target certain genes and thus play a role in genetic engineering of food animals.
According to Branen, "There's also no question that nanomaterials may help increase the shelf stability of food products and assure their safety."
Panelist Hongda Chen serves as the US Department of Agriculture's national program leader for bioprocesing engineering and nanotechnology.
He will explore how scientific methods like nanotechnology may be applied to help meet the world's growing demand for safe and healthy food.
Synthetic biology, the use of novel methods to create genes or chromosomes, will be explored by panelist Michele Garfinkel, a policy analyst for the J. Craig Venter Institute, which pioneered the sequencing of the human genome.
The public's acceptance or rejection of new technologies that could determine future food supplies will be the domain of Susanna Priest, a professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
A communications researcher, she has argued that public debate is essential to public attitudes toward such technologies.
For Branen, the panel provides an opportunity to advance that public discussion.
"I think that's essential. We've seen lots of technologies where we didn't get adoption because we didn't get consumer acceptance and understanding," he said.