Genetically modified foods are foods produced from organisms that have had changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering as opposed to traditional crossbreeding. In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration favour the use of the term genetic engineering over genetic modification as being more precise; the USDA defines a genetic modification to include “genetic engineering or other more traditional methods.” According to the World Health Organization, “genetically modified organisms can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called ‘modern biotechnology’ or ‘gene technology’, sometimes also ‘recombinant DNA technology’ or ‘genetic engineering’. … Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods.” Credit: Wikipedia.
It was reported this week that Brazilian scientists are hoping to create spicy tomatoes using CRISPR gene-editing techniques. Although tomatoes contain the genes for capsaicinoids (the chemicals that give chillies their heat) they are dormant – CRISPR could be used to make them active. This is desirable because, compared to tomatoes, chillies are difficult to farm – and capsaicinoids have other useful applications besides their flavour – in pepper spray for example.
Genetically edited bananas could be resistant to a disease known as “fusarium wilt” that has been attacking plantations across the globe. Researchers at the Norwich-based start-up Tropic Biosciences are using gene-editing techniques to develop a new, more resilient version of the fruit after securing £7.5m from investors.
Sweeter and even peach-flavoured strawberries are being worked on by US scientists using CRISPR techniques. Due to an EU court ruling last year, CRISPR-edited foods will be subject to the same regulation that has limited the planting and sale of genetically modified crops. A major player in the development of CRISPR crops is the agricultural giant Monsanto.
The Arctic apple is a fruit engineered to resist browning after being cut.
The scientist Dennis Gonsalves developed the genetically modified Rainbow papaya, which can defend itself from papaya ring spot disease by inserting a gene from the virus into the fruit’s genetic code. The Rainbow papaya was introduced in 1992, and is credited with saving Hawaii’s $11m papaya industry.
Credit: Bertille Duthoit for The Guardian, 13 January 2019.