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Gene Editing--The Future of Food

An article on this website provides details about the process of gene editing that is used to produce a gene-edited crop (GEC), and how it differs from transgenic modification of an organism’s genome to obtain a genetically modified organism, or GMO. In essence, both processes involve altering an organism’s DNA, but gene editing is an alternative technology that does not employ transgenic modification (transferring DNA from one species to another) to produce a genetically modified organism.

An Aug. 2018 article titled “Why Gene Editing is the Next Food Revolution” by Eric Niiler (National Geographic, Aug 2018) provides several cases of how gene editing can enhance food crops to be higher yielding, more nutritious, and impervious to drought and pests, as well as its potential application toward solving human diseases and maladies. It also provides a very good narrative and pictorial presentation of the processes involved in this genetic modification technique. Of special importance is the author’s statements about how gene editing is viewed differently by U.S. regulators (they don’t need strict regulation--click here ) and European Union regulators (they should be regulated the same as GMO’s). Additionally, the author cites two special advantages from using gene-editing vs. GMO techniques; 1) it is simpler, cheaper, and faster, and 2) it might allow developing nations to develop and grow enhanced crops without buying expensive seeds from large seed companies.

The author goes on to state that “even though science has not shown any human health effects from eating GMO’s, they have been the target of consumer boycotts and tough government regulations throughout Europe and some U.S. states, spurred by distrust of the big corporations that create GMO’s and the ramifications of mixing genes from two species.”

Conversely, “...newer gene editing tools such as CRISPR [and there are others (click here)] achieve the same effects without transferring new genes from one organism to another.” This difference should quell the unfounded fears that are proffered by food safety advocacy groups. However, the ultimate success of gene editing will not be decided by scientists who use its technology, but by the success (or lack of success) of activists who will continue to stoke consumer fears about any kind of genetic modification to transform food plants and animals.

Since finding new ways to boost food production for a growing population is imperative and should be the primary goal of all sustainability initiatives, the end result from using gene editing is that more efficient ways of improving crop productivity and quality will be available to practitioners in all countries that will allow them to be used. It is heartening to see that a mainstream “popular” science publication such as National Geographic has presented such a positive view of this relatively new genetic modification technology. Hopefully, such articles will encourage the public’s reception of this technology and the positive benefits that will result from its use.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, Oct. 2018, larryheatherly@bellsouth.net