The Economist has published a superb article that neatly encompasses the history of wheat, the development of fertilizer, the Green Revolution, genetic modification, and the end of human population growth. Fun facts:
(1) Wheat is an ancient cross between 3 different grasses producing a triploid genetic "monster," the genome of which contains a massive 16 billion base pairs of DNA, 40 times as much as rice, six times as much as maize and five times as much as people.
(2) Half of all of the nitrogen molecules in all people alive today are derived from artificial ammonia fertilizer.
(3) Virtually every variety of wheat and barley you see growing in the field was produced by "mutation breeding" in which plant scientists bombard food plants with radiation and chemicals to produce mutations that are then crossbred back into commercial varieties.
(4) Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, has saved more human lives than any other person in all of human history.
(5) Human beings, unlike any other animals, do not automatically turn more food into more offspring. In fact, fertility rates are lowest where food security is highest.
Whole thing here.
Kudos to C.S. Prakash for the lead.