Here’s a video for those of you who, like me, enjoy goofy nerdistry. It’s a primer on the effort to make rice that grows more efficiently — complete with an explanation of the nitty-gritty science that involves coffee beans and cat poop. (I have also found myself reaching for analogies — but different ones — when talking about this stuff.)

This is an international science project, like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, funded by governments and charities around the world. It’s an incredibly ambitious moonshot: Plant breeders have never made such complex adjustments before — though evolution has accomplished it several times. Doing something this advanced requires just about every technique plant scientists have come up with (yes, including genetic engineering).

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So far, the project is on track, and if progress continues we’ll have rice that does photosynthesis as efficiently as corn by 2025. Such an innovation, the project hopes, could feed a billion people, but I don’t put much stock in such projections. Better to say that it could significantly help with the problem of shrinking our environmental footprint even as population grows.

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