New thoughts around plant development must be explored to feed the surging population and survive climate change. Although Wright’s project is speculative and set far enough in the future to encourage open discussion, the ideas within it explore very present-day hopes and fears.
Conceptual designers are currently looking ahead to what we will be growing and eating decades in the future – and it’s likely to be much more high-tech. Central Saint Martins graduate Mariah Wright has envisaged a scenario, set in the mid 21st century, when common plant breeds are genetically modified to take on extra functions: Here are some examples:
Toxicity-sensing rice, set to emerge in China in 2040, will be modified with colour-expressing genes that show when there is soil contamination nearby: leaves will gradate from lime green to hot red and pink when toxicity is present.
Breadfruit, a tropical plant that doesn’t currently produce latex and isn’t able to grow in England’s current climate, will be able to do both these things in 2060s England. Creating a national industry for rubber production, the plant will be designed to end the country’s dependence on South American imports.
California in 2050, meanwhile, will modify strawberry plants to grow their own protective packaging – cutting down on the chance of damage during transit.
Some of the ideas are appealing, some of them are quite terrifying, but none of them are impossible. Genetic modification holds the promise of delivering great innovations on a global level, but it is hugely controversial.
“Many scientists point to the urgency of developing plants and animals that can feed the surging human population and survive the effects of climate change,” explains Wright. “Now they are asking, when, not if, genetically modified foods will become normalised.”