Representative Subtheme Challenge:

FAI-01: Accelerated Breeding of Plants and Animals

Imagine a future where your visit to a local farm reveals fields of crops tailored to thrive in changing climates, a direct result of AI and engineering biology-driven breeding. These crops, resilient to extreme weather and pests, yield abundant, nutrient-rich produce, meeting local food demands sustainably. Livestock bred with similar precision exhibit enhanced health and reduced environmental impact. This scenario, a blend of AI-driven genomics and innovative bioengineering, has transformed agricultural practices, bolstering food security, stimulating economic growth, and solidifying U.S. position in global agricultural innovation. Continuous investment in these technologies has turned sustainability and efficient resource use from lofty goals into practical realities, showcasing the pivotal role of the bioeconomy to shape a resilient, nourishing future.

Advancements in AI-powered tools are revolutionizing plant and animal breeding, offering unprecedented capabilities to improve target traits for consumer, producer, and environmental benefits. The merging of breeding and bioengineering, enhanced by AI, is poised to meet the rising demand for safe, sustainable food, feed, fiber, and energy. With the global population projected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050, the urgency for increased food production, coupled with challenges like climate change, invasive pests, and disease outbreaks, underscores the need for rapid, efficient breeding techniques. This innovative convergence is vital for optimizing resource use, enhancing food security, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

CASA-Bio stakeholders representing government, industry, and non-profit sectors, identified areas of mutual interest where concerted effort among them may lead more quickly to the realization of the envisioned future. These are a few of their ideas. Critical R&D areas include adapting centralized agriculturally relevant databases for machine learning and application of AI for functional genomics and discovery in plant, animal, and microbial systems. Expansion of automated phenotyping systems and application of engineering biology could help associate beneficial traits with underlying genetic mechanisms. Extending understanding of traditional agricultural models to non-conventional plants and animals could diversify the food supply by development of new food sources, and the discovery potential for AI/ML-enabled protein/enzyme pathways is substantial. There is also a pressing need for tools that accelerate experimentation processes, like tissue culture and cell-free transformation, to keep pace with evolving agricultural demands. We emphasize that this list is not comprehensive; we need you to help us think deeper within this subtheme!

As a member of the R&D community, you too are a CASA-Bio stakeholder, and providing your insight on R&D projects that undergird this sub-theme and lead to solutions is critical. Your ideas will matter! Your individual project ideas and those developed as part of the collaborative Town Hall process will be combined to produce an aggregate view. This view will help us understand not only the interests of the R&D community, but also what they are willing to do to advance the bioeconomy. Topics among the R&D project ideas we receive will help government, industry, and non-profit stakeholders see the potential of the US R&D community to address critical future needs and help define topics for future exploration through workshops and roadmapping.

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CASA-Bio is based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Contract No. 49100423P0058. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. National Science Foundation.
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