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GMO’s New Developments

The Newest Developments in GMO’s

For those of you who are very anti-GMO foods, scientists have found a new less invasive way to change the genes in plants. Unfortunately, the anti-GMO people associate this activity with Monsanto who make a profit selling seeds to farmers that produce seedless crops. But the fact remains that not one scientific peer reviewed study has shown that GMO foods are harmful.
Although most of our provinces have a system for labelling GMO foods, so far there is no system in place in Ontario. Since most of Europe have banned GMO’s and the clear labelling is in the future, new methods are being developed that are more precise and less invasive to the plant.
Soon you will be eating potatoes that never turn brown or soybeans with a healthier mix of fatty acids.
A new generation of crops known as gene-edited, rather than genetically modified is coming to the market. Created through new tools that snip and tweak DNA at precise locations, they, at least for now, fall outside of current regulations.
Unlike older methods of engineering genes, these techniques, such as CRISPR, for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, have generally not been used to add genes from other organisms into plants.
This new method has already been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This ruling has allowed the growth of hundreds of acres of gene-edited crops in several states in the U.S, and already a number of people have eaten them.
Andre Choulika, chief executive of Cellectis is leading the way in this new technology. Last October, Cellectis hosted a dinner at Benoit New York, the Alain Ducasse Manhattan restaurant, and served dishes made from its gene-edited soybeans and potatoes. Guests included professors, journalists and many “A” list celebrities.
Calyxt, a subsidiary of Cellectis producing the gene-edited food, is also developing new versions of wheat including one with greater resistance to fungal diseases, another lower in carbohydrates and higher in dietary fibres.
Other companies also developing gene-edited crops include DuPont Pioneer, which has used the new technology for a new variety of waxy corn, used most commonly not for food but for starch in adhesives. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have used CRISPR to create mushrooms that do not turn brown as quickly.
The current regulations were written for the earlier generation of genetically modified organisms, where scientists used bacteria and viruses—typically from plant pests—to drop a payload of new genes into the nuclei of the plant cells, where they merge with the plant’s DNA. That worked, but scientist could not control where the genes would be inserted and that led to worries of potentially dangerous genetic disruptions or crossbreeding with non-GMO crops.
Companies like Calyxt have portrayed gene-editing more like moving the cursor in a word program to a particular location and making a small change to the text.
So far this new method is too new to regulate and as long as Trump is President, I am sure they will not make any regulatory moves.
Other parts of the world are also considering whether to regulate gene-edited foods and how to do so. In Europe, where GMO’s are banned, the European Commission has created a scientific panel to study the issue.
Cellectis’s Choulika said the inspiration for the October gathering was a dinner more than two centuries earlier, by Antoine Augustin Parmentier, a French scientist who was enthralled with potatoes brought to Europe from South America. But many Europeans scorned the potato. France even outlawed the growing of potatoes in 1748. Because of Parmentier’s work, potatoes were declared to be safely edible in 1772 and the ban was lifted. Still very few people would eat them.
IN 1778, Parmentier organized the first in a series of lavish dinners for the high society of Paris, serving dishes all made with potatoes. After that potatoes became a fixture in French cuisine.
With farmers harvesting the first substantial plantings of the Cellectis gene-edited potatoes and soybeans last year, Choulika thought of throwing a modern version of Parmentier’s gathering.
At the dinner the soybeans were transformed into several dishes including soy blinis, mini tofu and soy burgers, and soybean hummus. Carole Pourchet, the director of the Lab, the research and development arm of Ducasses’s food enterprise said the gene-edited soy cooked as if it were normal soy, but the potatoes were a little drier, leading to the idea to confit them to retain moisture.
The potatoes showed up in mashed potatoes, potato pie and blinis. Richard Mulligan, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School was one of the guests that praised the potatoes that were cooked ten different ways.
Calyxt, the subsidiary company is hoping their soybeans will be used in cooking oil for commercial and industrial use by 2018.
The potatoes, edited to remain fresher longer and not produce carcinogens when fried, could be grown and sold in 2019. A second potato that is slower to turn brown just received word from the USDA that it too, is not subject to regulation.
Gene-editing is not only being used only with plants. A Minnesota company, Recombinetics, is editing the genes of farm animals—for example, creating cattle without horns. Also the newest research into human disease has scientists working on gene-splicing to remove genes that cause a number of severe inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Tay-Sacchs disease and many more. You can read all about this in the accompanying article in this newsletter.
Of course the anti-GMO people are already raising fears but only time will tell if this method works and the foods are safe to eat.
While gene-editing means removing or placing a gene in a specific sequence in the DNA, it is possible there may be other areas in the strands of DNA where the genes may also be sliced and so far the consequences of that are unknown.
It seems to me that gene-edited food will be much less invasive to the crop leaving its normal DNA mostly intact rather than changing the whole DNA structure. But the real hope to me is not so much the food, but that the process could be used to remove disease –inherited genes from human beings.