Newswise — Pressure for consumer acceptance of genetically modified foods will intensify as global warming brings even harsher environments for our food crops, according to Professor Mark Tester at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

"Trying to grow plants in Australian conditions, as in many countries around the world where the conditions are harsh, is challenging, and it is likely to get harder under the effects of climate change," Professor Tester said.

Professor Tester, an internationally recognised plant genomics researcher, is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellow. He is based at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus.

His research involves identifying genes responsible for making some plants more tolerant to hostile environmental conditions " such as drought, salinity and frost " and moving these genes into plants suitable for commercial production through conventional breeding and genetic modification techniques.

The latest technology is allowing these "toughness" genes to be turned on and off in specific cells within the plants.

"Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment," Professor Tester said.

"There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainably and economically. Genetic modification is one of those tools."

Professor Tester said the third world stood to gain substantially from developments in GM crops, with world food grain production needing to double by the year 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population.

In addition to a lack of water supply, one of the most serious environmental problems facing Australia is increasing levels of salinity, which currently affects 5.7 million hectares of Australian soil and costs an estimated $270 million a year. This problem is shared by many other countries around the world, Professor Tester said.

"Our results in the laboratory suggest great promise for the rapid development of crops with increased salt tolerance," he said.

"GM crops provide us with an opportunity to overcome adverse conditions and boost the world's food supply. We should embrace those opportunities for the benefit of millions, even billions, of people."