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Issue #9: How CRISPR Could Revolutionize Our Food



January 15 · Issue #9 · View online

Dedicated to curating tech products and startups solving the world's most pressing problems, including climate change, pollution, and sustainability.

Hello everyone, Aleksandra here.
In this issue I explored how gene-edited foods could potentially bring to the table a new opportunity to improve our health, food taste as well as fight climate change.
According to a geneticist Jennifer Doudna, one of the co-inventors of CRISPR, in the next five years the most profound thing we’ll see in terms of CRISPR’s effects on people’s everyday lives will be in the agricultural sector. 
Can we rely on technology to save us from starvation?

Source: National Geographic
Source: National Geographic
What is CRISPR and what's it doing in our food?
Scientists and entrepreneurs have been working on innovative ways to put food on our tables.  New technologies are potentially changing the foods we eat every day.
CRISPR is often described as a kind of ‘molecular scissors’ that scientists can use to change or delete DNA sequences. Let’s first take a look at how gene editing is different from gene modification.
Remember the pictures of the fish tomatoes that were an unofficial emblem of the anti-GMO movement? Basically, scientists really did create a Frankentomatoes and forced anti-freeze genes from an Arctic fish into tomato DNA, allowing the plants to survive frost. 
But gene-edited crops are very different from the controversial genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Image source: Financial Times
Image source: Financial Times
If we simplify it, CRISPR is taking out the bad parts of a food’s DNA gene sequence and adding in or changing parts that help make it taste better or last longer.
Some of the applications could be boosting the health benefits of products, shelf life, off-season availability and transportability of fruits and vegetables.
Avocado is a simple example of a food that could benefit from CRISPR and gene editing techniques. Ripe avocados are the most tasty but also hard to ship around the world. With a specific genetic change it could be possible to both retain flavor benefits and the conventional longevity of this avocado on the shelf.
Another applications, such as more flavorful tomatoes that do not turn brown as they age or after they are cut — greatly extending shelf life and reducing waste — are close to being commercialized in the US. In 2018, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a big step, saying certain gene-edited plants can be designed, cultivated, and sold free from regulation. 
Bonus: National Geographic has some cool illustrations on what is CRISP, how it is different from GMOs, and the promise of gene editing.
A Conversation about CRISPR on The Food Tech Show (Apple Podcasts) where Pete Rowe, a molecular microbiologist and the CEO of Deepbranch Biotech talks about why this technology is promised to be one of the food industry’s biggest game-changers over the next couple of decades.
A good TEDTalk by Ellen Jorgensen who explains the myths and realities of CRISPR.
“Should we bring back the woolly mammoth? Should we edit a human embryo? And my personal favorite: How can we justify wiping out an entire species that we consider harmful to humans off the face of the Earth, using this technology? ”
Ellen Jorgensen: What you need to know about CRISPR | TED Talk
Another very interesting talk is by Pamela Roland, a plant geneticist who studies genes that make plants resistant to disease and tolerant of stress. 
Genetic modification is not new; virtually everything we eat has been genetically modified in some manner. Pamela gives a few very simple examples, from a modern corn, banana, to an eggplant. She also gives a couple of examples of how genetic engineering can be used to fight pests, disease, reduce the amount of insecticides as well as reduce malnutrition.
“We have a huge challenge in front of us. Let’s celebrate scientific innovation and use it. It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to help alleviate human suffering and safeguard the environment. “
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food | TED Talk
Startups to watch
Tropic Biosciences team is working on editing bananas to help the fruit to live longer as it’s delivered to consumers. For coffee, the startup has already successfully genetically edited a variety of bean that is naturally decaffeinated. 
Calyxt is a start-up biotech firm that works with plants at the molecular level, removing the unhealthy parts and boosting the nutritional benefits that already exist, with no added chemicals or foreign substances.
Wrapping up...
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Till next issue,
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