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Flood Tolerant Seeds

Creating water tolerant seeds to cope with unpredictable weather patterns from climate change and improving the quality of human life.

Photo of Sara Pratte
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of Wisconsin

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Fairborn, Ohio, United States of America

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Fairborn, Ohio, a city in the United States of America has a city population 33,658. The total area (km²) 37.75 (14.57 mi²).

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I, the lead applicant, live in Fairborn, Ohio.  I selected Fairborn, because I am considering it home base.  The technology I am proposing can be used all across the globe.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Fairborn Ohio is a typical midwest location consisting average, hardworking Americans. There is an Air Force base which brings in diverse cultures and population. Agricultural farms surround the city consisting of corn and soybeans.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The six themes are described more in detail with the attached proposal.  Climate change is prevalent in 2020 and will still be a problem in 2050, if not worse.  Intense storms and flooding is becoming a problem for agricultural fields; lowering farmer yields and delaying plant time. Economics is a problem since the demand for quality food is high and the supply is low, which increases food prices, which lowers food security. The CRISPR gene editing technology is here in 2020 and will hopefully improve by 2050.  The government is already funding genetically modified organisms, and the flood tolerant seeds will be an off shoot of genetically modified plants.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Since farms are flooding from the intense storms, flood tolerant seeds will thrive in water with the help of CRISPR.  CRISPR can go into the seed, cut out the trait that hinders submerged growth, add traits which will allow the plant to survive storms and flooding. If flood tolerant plants work, this will increase farmers' yields, which increases the economy. Floodplains can become a new source of field production since the soil is fertile.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

When farmers produce more yield this will create more food for consumers, which will increase food security.  The food in the cafeterias albeit at the Air Force base or local schools will be more fresh, locally grown, and more sustainable.  More restaurants might come into the city, knowing they have local, farm fresh food available, opposed to shipping in produce. Have you ever noticed the look on someone's face when they eat good, wholesome food? Their face lights up, their energy lightens, they feel like they can take on the world. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The Food Vision primary goal is to create flood tolerant plants to help overcome the negative effects of climate change, which has led to a decrease in arable land. The development of flood resistant seed-stock and plants could increase the land available for farming as well as protect current land that may be subject to climate change induced flooding. This will help the farmers and their yields. We need to ascertain which proteins,enzymes, and other specific traits are needed to be extracted from food plants such as rice. These identified traits can then be utilized to reconfigure other food plant species. Using CRISPR genetic technology will provide the precision and efficiencies required to adapt food plant species to the current trends of climate change.   

Water tolerance in seeds and plants have broad applications to alleviate the damage of climate change. Flood tolerant seeds is a response to flash floods and torrential down pours across the globe which can drown seeds quickly. The increase in flash flooding is forcing farmers to spend money they do not have on drainage systems. We can market the seeds as cheaper than a drainage system. Flood tolerant seeds will help farmers' yields and allow farmers to plant on time. Flood tolerant plants can also open new fields; such as floodplains. The soil in floodplains is very fertile which will help crops thrive. This is a nice change of pace since the soil presently used for agriculture is dry and damaged. Once the soil is completely used, there is no coming back. Soil is considered a non-renewable, “life-blood”resource.

Flood resistant seeds will also add diversity to farmland. For example, if a farmer is growing soybeans,but some areas flood, planting genetically modified plant species will allow for profitable productivity. The land will not go to waste and it will enhance plant diversity.  Plant along the perimeter of the fields, or near drainage ditches. These seeds provide a solution for drainage systems, saving farmers money with annual seedmarket prices being significantly lower than the cost of a drainage system.

Ways Flood Tolerant Seeds are Beneficial:

~ The environment: Farmers have relied on predictable weather patterns for centuries. Climate change is making weather unpredictable. The weather patterns create excessive drought, intense storms, and flash flooding. I live in Ohio, USA, and during 2019 planting season, storms ripped through, flooding the majority of the farms. Farmers had to plant late due to excessive flooding, creating lower yields. Flash flooding over-saturates the soil which stunts root growth and killing crops from rot. Flood tolerant seeds will not die in over-saturated soil. Instead, growth will be triggered, a layer of protection will protect the seed, or create waxy stems to repel excess water. Flood tolerant seeds will mimic natural survival skills of other selected plant species.

~Diet: Since crops will be "flood-tolerant", food security issues will be mitigated.

~Economics: Due to the current government in the United States, agricultural exports are diminishing, especially with the trade tariffs with China. The supply and demand has shifted. The demand is high since the global population is reaching eight billion people, but the supply is low, so the price of food is increasing, which, in turn, increases food insecurity. Flood tolerant seeds will impact the global economy since they provide better land use, increased food security, and enhanced food production yields/profit potential.

~Culture: Flood tolerant seeds will affect different cultures. Third world countries will be able to grow food in flood plains, or in areas which flood every year. INdia will be able to sustain their crops during monsoon season. Many cultures have their own rituals and holidays surrounded by food. Perhaps people will rejoice during flash floods and intense storms, knowing they are not losing yields and produce, and knowing their village or town will be able to eat that season.

~Technology: Flood tolerant seeds will not be viable without the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology applications. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Inter-spaced Short Palindromic Repeats. In brief, it is a gene editing tool. Researchers create a small piece of RNA with a short "guide" sequence that attaches or binds to a specific target sequence of DNA in a genome and it also binds to the Cas9 enzyme. The Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA at the targeted location. Rice, for example, has the ability to grow and thrive while submerged in water. Scientists have found plants share 68 gene families that activate when submerged, yet some plant genes have not evolved enough to activate. These will suffocate and die. CRISPR-Cas9 can go into these genomes and trigger activation by implanting the proper proteins and traits.

~Governmental Policies: Presently, agricultural government policies are in favor of using glyphosate on crops trying to increase yield. It is working, but the emerging factors are killing natural species; pests, butterflies, bees, it is harming mice and rats' gastrointestinal systems, humans have developed Celiac disease, adult onset allergies, and respiratory infections. The government is supportive of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since they have the potential to increase yield, improve pest resistance, and enhance attempts in feeding the growing population. Water tolerant seeds and plants is another form of GMOs, therefore, the government policies will likely support this concept.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • My professor and collaborator posted it in class at University of Wisconsin

Attachments (1)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aura Stewart

Sara, your vision is very thought provoking. I can see the great potential of your proposal for water tolerant seeds. I can anticipate it will be an increasing demand for them. How do you think that seeds can be made available to the people that will need them or have the desire for them? Do you anticipate any rejection from anti-GMO groups? What specific foods would be possible to grow by using water tolerant seeds?
Aura Stewart

Photo of Sara Pratte

Aura, I would like to start selling them at local farmer's markets. The dream is to sell the seeds to large seed companies, but I know I have to start small. I expect to hear from anti-GMO groups, I used to be one, so I have a decent understanding of their angle and arguing points. I would like to try soybeans, potatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers first. My intent is using gene editing on low-lying plants, the ones who are most effected by flash floods.

Photo of Aura Stewart

When you are really hungry, there is no a hard bread. That works for your seeds. I think the resistance of GMO groups will dissipate when people are not able to produce in traditional conditions and they need crops that are flood resistant. Flooding is already here to stay. Best wishes with your project. I can see that your efforts will be able to feed generations to come. Here some news about agricultural lands affected by flooding:

Photo of Sara Pratte

Aura, thank you! I agree with you regarding the dissipation of the GMO resistance. The earth is constantly changing, and human survival depends on learning how to work with the earth. Genetically modified seeds using different arrangement of nucleotides providing survival skills for extreme weather conditions will alter agriculture. The planet provides different sequences for different survival skills. It's our job to figure out the pattern.

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