The first CRISPR gene-edited food has gone on sale in Japan recently, in the form of a tomato packed with an alleged increase in nutritional content. The Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomato, created by startup Sanatech Seed, sold gene-edited seedlings to any farmers that wanted them earlier in the year, and 4,200 farmers took up the offer. Now, the tomatoes are ripe for sale.
As far as Sanatech Seed and media outlets can tell, this marks the first-ever CRISPR-edited food on sale to the public.
According to the company, the original plan was to sell the puree to begin with, but due to “many requests” they have begun selling tomatoes ahead of schedule. However, the tomatoes are just the beginning of the edited array of fruit and vegetables, with many more variants to come in the future.
“As a seedling development company that utilizes genome editing technology, we are pleased with consumers and producers. We will continue to develop varieties that can be enjoyed,” said Sanatech Seed in their announcement.
The tomatoes in question are modified to have reduced levels of an enzyme that breaks down GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks signals between nerve connections. As a result, the tomatoes have around five times as much GABA in them, which some research suggests has a calming effect on the body and may improve stress and sleep. This research is debated, with many such studies having a conflict of interest, but so far evidence suggests supplemental GABA provides a limited effect on improvements in this area.
While gene editing may sound scary and is often used as a buzzword for those against genetically modified organisms, most produce we consume today has gone through gene alteration in some way. Modern bananas, for example, are a result of centuries of hybridization with other varieties, with wild bananas being filled with large seeds. Throughout this process, the farmers are altering characteristics as they wish via selective breeding – CRISPR simply gives scientists far more control over which genes are introduced, silenced, or activated.
Japan does not consider these tomatoes as genetically modified, due to the fact that similar changes can occur naturally, and so they are available for purchase now.
The Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomato is almost definitely not the last consumers will see of CRISPR-modified food. The UK is currently undergoing a law rework in the wake of their exit from the European Union, in which they are expected to relax gene editing laws for food. Should this go forward, plant biologists based in the UK have announced plans for a genetically-edited wheat plant, which should produce lower amounts of a possible carcinogen when toasted or fried.
[H/T: New Scientist]