A “CRISPR” Approach to Genetically Engineered Foods

I can’t go to the grocery store without seeing a ton of labels—organic, free-range, farm-fresh, gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, and made-without-high-fructose-corn-syrup. Much has changed since my childhood days of begging my mom to buy Gushers, which I’m pretty sure just said “Made with Real Fruit.”

One labeling process that is highly debated involves Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In food, “GMO” typically refers to fruits or vegetables that have had certain genes inserted into their genetic structure—for example, a gene resisting a certain type of pest. Some shoppers are reluctant to try such foods.

Now, there is a new kind of genetically modified food that may be more appealing to skittish shoppers: “CRISPR crops.” CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” Unlike traditional GMOs, which take a gene from one organism and insert it into another organism, CRISPR technology allows scientists to edit genomes precisely, efficiently and flexibly. While typical GMO plants could contain particles from flounder fish in a tomato to fight frostbite, CRISPR crops do not contain the genetic makeup of other organisms. CRISPR crops are made by adjusting the existing genetic makeup, not inserting foreign genes.

For example, a plant pathologist at Pennsylvania State University edited genes within the common white button mushroom to resist browning. By deleting a few base pairs in the mushroom’s genome, the plant pathologist reduced the activity of the enzyme that causes browning by 30 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared that because these genetically engineered mushrooms do not contain a “donor organism,” they do not require USDA oversight.

Agilent SureGuide technology plays a key role in the advancement of gene editing research. SureGuide is an integrated tool set that expands access to CRISPR technology, making it easier to integrate into the existing cloning workflows of scientists and researchers. Furthermore, SureGuide accelerates and eases the process of genome editing by giving researchers the ability to identify critical sequences responsible for a gene’s functional properties.

To the USDA at least, gene editing prompts fewer concerns than gene replacement. Should this technology be accepted, it may reduce one more confusing label on food. It may even replace traditional GMOs entirely.

Today’s post was written by Agilent Communications’ summer intern!

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