Redesigning plants: Five food ideas for the future

While clean eating is the food movement of the moment, conceptual designers are looking ahead to what we’ll 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: strawberry plants grow their own packaging, rice senses toxicity within its soil and coffee plants feature biological trademarks.

Triticum - Carnivorous wheat

Each plant in the project is presented from the standpoint of a future food historian. Carnivorous wheat (emerging in North Dakota in 2040) will be developed, according to Wright’s design fiction, as an alternative to conventional pest control. The wheat will be able to detect insects on its surface, exude a sticky substance to trap the pest, and then absorb its nutrients.

Coffee Arabica, predicted for Ethiopia in the very near-future of 2020, foresees companies breeding biologically copyrighted plant species, to stave off competition from other brands and prevent product theft. The coffee plant will be developed to grow spherical pods that can only be harvested by its owner’s patented machines.

Coffee Arabica

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.

Oryza saliva - toxicity-sensing rice

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.

Artocarpus Altilis - latex-producing breadfruit

Fragaria Ananassa - strawberry packaging

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. Some of them are appealing, some of them are quite terrifying, but none of them is 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.”

WANT MORE? Futurist report Food Industry Evolutions takes a deep-dive look at what and how we’ll be eating next.

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