Domestication of New Species
Domestication of new species has the potential to deliver outcomes that meet the challenges of efficient food feed and energy supply in response to growing human demands. However, the feasibility of domesticating new species has been challenged and needs to be evaluated. The key issue is whether science can define needs and opportunities that have been overlooked by the processes that have driven human domestication to date. Most plants have been domesticated for food use and domestication was introduced in Chapter 2. The emergence of new plant uses such as the provision of energy suggests the need to domesticate new species for these purposes. The modification of plants to improve their suitability as energy crops will require the selection of genotypes with novel traits that are not necessarily optimal for survival of the plant in the wild. For example, an improvement in accessibility to enzyme digestion of carbohydrates in plant cell walls would facilitate conversion to sugars and use in fuel production. This would potentially include steps to reduce the crystalline nature of the cellulose and to reduce lignin content. Fears that this would lead to plants that would be susceptible to pests and diseases have been expressed. While these unintended consequences need to be considered and managed carefully, comparison with the domestication of food species suggests that these concerns may not be impossible hurdles. Food plants have many characteristics that have been selected to suit humans and that would be deleterious to the survival of the plant in a wild population. Plants grown under domestication have human intervention to propagate them and to remove competitors, provide nutrients and water, and protect against pests and diseases.