by IlioMasprone Editor-Knight of the Principality of Monaco. MONACO. It has become trendy to be health-conscious, so today I am reporting my personal research on a futuristic strategy coming directly from the most advanced CRISPR frontier. I started to change my think about food genetic engineering when I read this sentence released by an Italian molecular parasitologist whose work aims to drive out malaria through the CRISPR’ s technology, Andrea Crisanti of the London Imperial College. “Researchers have a duty to show that everything has been done to identify and mitigate risks. Those who think that humans shouldn’t tinker with genomes and species will always object to gene drives. But controversies can be solved democratically, considering the interests of patients and society as a whole.”
First above all, I asked myself what is CRISPR? Genome editing is the precise modification of a DNA sequence by using certain proteins (nucleases) able to cut the double helix in targeted locations. The most promising method is called CRISPR/Cas9 because protein Cas9 is typically employed. Cas9 must be equipped with a RNA guide in order to finds its target. The system works as a Swiss army knife provided with a positioning compass, a vise to grip the DNA and scissors to cut it. Broken ends are then fixed by natural repairing mechanisms in the cell. The way they are repaired can affect function by introducing point mutations indistinguishable from natural ones and useful to silence a faulty gene. Alternatively a DNA template can be used to edit the gene letter by letter in order to make it functional, or a new DNA sequence can be inserted to add a desidered trait.
These tricks are invaluable for scientific research, for example to investigate models of human diseases. As CRISPR works in virtually any organism (from bacteria to humans) potential applications are almost limitless. Whereas correction of genes in human embryos (germline editing) would be highly controversial and is not endorsed by most scientists, applications in other species can range from biomedicine (i.e. for control of insect-borne diseases and strategy’s application I recommend to see the Target Malaria project funded by Bill & Melinda Gates), industrial production (i.e. new generation biofuels) and the sector that I am talking about, agrbiotech (i.e. crops modified for stress tolerance without compromising taste and nutritional value). Benefits, risks and ethical considerations vary in different fields/products and should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
About the food we eat and where it comes from there has been a lot of focus recently. More and more products in the grocery stores are labeled “organic,” “farm-raised,” or “all-natural.” If you put food loaded with preservatives into your body, you’re likely not getting the nutrition you need, or you’ll need to intake a lot more just to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. Southern Europe Mediterranean diet has been named from experts all around the world the number 1 best plant-based diet. Rather than filling up on prepackaged diet meals or vending machine snacks, the Mediterranean diet encourages you to reach for whole, nutritiouis food such as lean protein (such as fish or seafood), healthy fats (thinks nuts and olive oil), and plenty of produce. Not only is eating this way delicious, but it will also help to you to consume less sugar and less preservatives, as well as help you to lose weight.
Of course, Southern Europe diet has access to the freshest produce or food that isn’t full of preservatives, and that’s where two food and agriculture companies, the French Cellectis and its Britannic subsidiary, Calyxt, come into the scenario. Apart from pioneering faster, cheaper and safer cancer therapies, Cellectis is a French company also invested in developing healthy and sustainable food through genetic engineering. Genetic engineering can make food healthier, improve nutrition and reduce environmental impact. To demonstrate its potential, on last November Cellectis and Calyxt hosted a dinner in New York featuring futuristic food technology, like i.e. gene-edited soybeans and potatoes. Expert chefs from Ducasse Conseil in France worked for 6 months on elaborate recipes for these new ingredients.
We are happy to report an extract of the an interview of André Choulika, Cellectis’ CEO, who hosted the dinner.
Q.How does the technology make the plants healthier?
A. The gene-edited potatoes lack an enzyme to degrade starch, which protects them from forming carcinogenic acrylamidewhen being cooked after being stored in the cold. The deletion also increases the production yield by 15%. In the case of soy, the modification increases the oleic acid content, removing the necessity to hydrogenate the oil to improve stability and shelf life. This common food processing technique creates trans-fats, which increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol.
Q.The market for this technology is still nascent, and, more importantly, the public’s perception of it remains skeptical about GMO.
A. Our engineered food is not considered GMO because it doesn’t introduce genes from other species. Instead, the company uses TALEN, a technology similar to CRISPR that can be used to remove any desired gene. This dinner was intended as a proof of how food technology can make a change for the better in health and nutrition while reducing the environmental footprint.
Q. Do you think that the hesitation people toward genetically modified food could have a detrimental effect on your company?
A. Well, even if our intentions are good, the public tends to have strong opinions on what’s right and wrong, and a lot of people believe nature shouldn’t be altered by science. This is a whole new market, which makes it really hard to gauge. Agricultural biotechnology product development is a highly speculative endeavor, and new laws could emerge to regulate genetically engineered products, which would significantly impact Celletics& Calyxt and the market as a whole. We have the right intentions because our technology wants to make it easier for people to get the nutrition they need. Actually, we are sure that the future will bring alternatives that can solve some of our most pressing problems.
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