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National Nutrition Month: The Promise of Gene Editing

March 15, 2018
One of the leading voices at the intersection of cooking and nutrition is Monica Reinagel or, as active social media users might know her, @NutritionDiva. To kick off National Nutrition Month, Reinagel (a trained chef and nutritionist) wrote a piece about the promise of gene editing, or more specifically CRISPR-Cas9 (“CRISPR”), for the website Food & Nutrition.

As a quick refresher, plants that are genetically edited do NOT carry foreign genes, whereas, the genetically modified foods available in your grocer today are the product of transgenic modification, or the transfer of genes from one organism to another. Not only does gene editing not involve the transfer of genes, but as Reinagel explains, it promises to be even more precise than transgenic modification.
Instead of transferring genetic material from one organism to another, scientists now can edit an organism’s own DNA by deleting a few nucleotide bases (the basic units in DNA) or shifting them slightly. No foreign genetic material is involved. It’s like the difference between using a photo editor to paste one person’s head on another person’s body and editing a few pixels to remove a blemish or fix flyaway hairs in a picture.

And with this new gene editing tool, scientists and farmers alike, are eager about the technology’s potential to enhance crops to solve global issues, like malnutrition.
Genetic researchers working with gene editing, along with farmers and growers, are excited about the potential for CRISPR technology to expedite solutions to a wide array of pressing concerns including climate change, malnutrition and population growth.

Reinagel goes on to note that gene editing, or GenEd as she refers to it, also alleviates concerns shared by opponents of GMOs.
For example, questions about food allergens are largely obviated by CRISPR techniques because no foreign genetic material is introduced in GenEd foods.

Even so, the verdict is still out on how this new technology will be regulated by federal agencies. Reinagel closes with the notion that many scientists agree that the product should be the focus for regulators, not the process for which the product was created.
To the extent that regulations are put in place, scientists are calling for a “product vs. process-based” review system, whereby as new foods are brought to market, they are evaluated according to the attributes and makeup of the food itself, not how these attributes were acquired.

Read the Nutrition Diva’s full piece here.