Apple with syringes sticking into in on an orange background. Image: Diana Polekhina, Unsplash

GMO 2.0: Overhyped, Underhyped, Justhyped

With technologies like CRISPR, digital twins, and cisgenic gene editing there is a nascent boom in synthetic biology.

This year, the New Yorker and New York Times Magazine both ran in-depth articles reporting on the potential of hacking photosynthesis and anti-oxidant enhanced tomatoes. Yet in 2020, 38% percent of adults in the United States think genetically modified foods are unsafe. Younger generations are even more skeptical. Will innovation be able to outpace the public’s doubts?

The concept of Overhyped, Underhyped, Justhyped? is that I will describe a trend, and then you vote on whether it is Overhyped, Underhyped, or Justhyped. Periodically, I’ll check in on the trend and share the voting results.

Safety is often a top concern for anti-GMO advocates, but major health groups like the AMA and WHO have concluded genetically modified foods are safe to eat. You’re probably eating them right now, with no negative side effects.

Other concerns about GMOs are tied to the current business model applied to the technology. For some seeds, farmers are not allowed to save seeds season to season and must buy new seeds each season. Crops are designed to resists certain pesticides and herbicides, allowing for easy and heavy application. One of these chemicals glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, have been linked to a range of issues from cancer in humans, disease in honey bees, and liver damage in rats. Is it possible to separate the technology from these business and farming practices?

Only a few types of GMO crops are currently grown in the United States; mainly soy beans, corn, sugar beets, canola, and cotton modified to be resistance to pests and disease. However, for these five crops the vast majority (+92%) are genetically modified varieties.

Most GMO crops aren’t served directly on your plate, instead they are the inputs for processed foods or used as feedstock for meat and dairy. But that may be about to change.

The first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption is on it’s way to dinner plates: a faster-growing farmed salmon, trademarked: AquaBounty. More consumer-facing products are on their way. Look out for the Arctic Apple, modified to resist oxidation after it’s been cut. Leafy greens, berries, and cherries are coming soon too.

In addition to public distrust and a perceived lack of safety, a strict regulatory process limits the new GMO products that can enter the market. The high price and long review period guarantees that only existing players or those with major venture backing will be able to innovate and compete.

This isn’t the first time GMO super-foods have been waiting in the wings, ready for their moment to shine. We’re still waiting for Golden Rice. But technology has advanced, and pressure on agriculture to increase production while decreasing negative environmental impacts is rising. The timing could be just right for GMO 2.0.

December 20, 2021 Overhyped Underhyped Justhyped Trends Food Biotech Climate Change


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