The first CRISPR developed foods could begin to show up in grocery stores within the next 10 years. Gene-editing startup Pairwise has an ambitious goal of being one of the first companies to offer produce that has been developed using CRISPR technology. The company also recently attracted the attention of Monsanto for the development of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and canola crops.
The traditional genetic modification has involved the lengthy process of altering DNA in order to produce beneficial traits in produce. Foods developed through genetic modification, and known as GMOs, have attracted quite a bit of negative attention from the public. The CRISPR technology is a different type of approach aimed at achieving similar goals of traditional genetic modification techniques.
The gene-editing tool known as CRISPR allows scientists to quickly and accurately target areas inside the genome of crops and manipulate the DNA. This process will result in the production of crops that have better flavor, last longer on store shelves and have increased tolerance to drought conditions.
CRISPR technology is already being used in research to make crops more capable of handling heat and drought, as well as making them more resistant to pests and disease. There are genetically edited soybeans being grown that produce oil that can withstand high cooking heat without producing any trans fats. There are also low-gluten and high-fiber wheat varieties available, as well as modified flax varieties that increase the omega-3 content.
On March 28, the US Department of Agriculture declared that certain plants that employ gene editing methods can be designed, cultivated, and sold without regulation. If a genetic alteration can potentially be bred in a plant, it will not be regulated. However, the use of genes from other species will still fall under current regulations for traditional genetic modification. “With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
Pairwise aims to get some of the first CRISPR developed fruits and vegetables on shelves within five to 10 years. The competition at DuPont hopes to release the first product made using ingredients from CRISPR corn within the next four years. The CRISPR technology will also reduce time and costs required to develop designer plants, which would allow smaller startups and public institutions to enter the market.