Solving global challenges in food security, emerging diseases and biodiversity loss requires evolutionary thinking, argues a new study published online in Science Express.
The study was co-authored by Bruce Tabashnik of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
For the first time, an international team of nine scientists has reviewed progress in addressing a broad set of challenges in agriculture, medicine and environmental management using approaches that consider evolutionary histories and the likelihood of rapid adaptation to human activities.
The study finds an urgent need for better implementation of evolutionary approaches for example, to combat the problem of escalating resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Furthermore, current efforts are found insufficient to reduce the accumulating costs from chronic disease and biodiversity loss, two crises ultimately caused by exposure to food and environments to which people and threatened wildlife are poorly adapted.
"Evolutionary principles provide insights for addressing some critical threats the world is facing now," said Tabashnik, who heads the UA's Department of Entomology and also is a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute. "An evolutionary perspective can give us effective new ways to deal with problems from agricultural pests, pathogens such as the Ebola virus, to cancer, antibiotic resistance and endangered species."
Tabashnik and his colleagues at UA have been at the forefront of research aiming to provide farmers with sustainable control of crop pests that reduces reliance on broad-spectrum insecticide sprays. An important advance in this effort is genetic engineering of cotton and corn to produce proteins derived from the widespread soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Bt proteins kill certain insect pests but are harmless to most other creatures, including people. These environmentally friendly toxins have been used for decades in sprays by organic growers and since 1996 in engineered Bt crops by mainstream farmers.