Peanuts in the North: Using Cold-Tolerant Peanuts to Solve World Hunger

Peanuts love warmth, taste delicious, produce their own nitrogen, and can save the world from hunger. For these reasons, plenty of research has been taking place to improve peanut agriculture around the world. One major problem facing peanut farmers is that peanuts dread the cold. They dread the cold so much that they will die if temperatures persist below 12°C (Zhang et al., 2019).

Contrary to the conventional approach of bundling peanuts up in snow suits, scientists are currently developing a new cryophobia-curing solution. Chinese researchers are currently considering modifying the peanut genome to create a GMO capable of surviving the cold (Zhang et al., 2019)! Indeed, the thermophilic tropical peanut may one day be cultivated in fields throughout the northern United States, Europe, and the Himalayas.

The Problem

Why do we need peanuts to grow in northerly climates anyway? Don’t peanuts grow just fine where they are? The answer is no. The need to develop cold-tolerant peanuts does not stem from our interest in growing them in Canada or Norway, but due to problems growing them where they are already grown (Zhang et al., 2019).

Peanut-producing countries like China and India are faced with periodic droughts that decimate entire peanut crops (Zhang et al., 2019). As a solution, farmers in northeastern China now sow their peanuts earlier in the year to ensure their crop can be harvested before the summer drought (Zhang et al., 2019). Unfortunately, peanuts cannot germinate below temperatures of 12°C, and grow optimally at 28°C. Hence, early seed-sowing can have disastrous effects on germination and therefore yield (Zhang et al., 2019). Additionally, temperatures below 12°C irreversibly damage peanut seedlings potentially decimating crops (Zhang et al., 2019).