Can lessons from the tech industry help agriculture ensure the continued vitality of our food supply? On open-source seeds and protecting biodiversity:
“It’s this collective sharing of material that improves the whole crop over time,” Myers told me. “If you’re not exchanging germplasm, you’re cutting your own throat.”
If all of this seems like the concern of a specialized few, consider that plant breeders shape nearly every food we eat, whether a tomato from the backyard or the corn in the syrup in a Coke. Because of intellectual-property restrictions, their work increasingly takes place in genetic isolation and is less dynamic as a result. In the short term, that can mean fewer types of tomatoes to plant in the garden, or fewer choices for farmers and, by extension, consumers. In the long term, it could hinder the very resilience of agriculture itself. Having access to a large genetic pool is critical for breeders who are adapting crops to the challenges of climate change. Every time intellectual-property protections fence off more germplasm, that gene pool shrinks.