The next wave of genetically modified crops is making its way to market—and might just ease concerns over “Frankenfoods”, according to a report in Nature reproduced in Scientific American (here).
Anastasia Bodnar, a biotechnologist with Biology Fortified, is quoted as saying that when the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were being developed for the farm, they were promoted as futuristic, ultra-nutritious crops that would bring exotic produce to supermarkets and help to feed a hungry world.
But the technology so far has bestowed most of its benefits on agribusiness, largely through crops modified to withstand weed-killing chemicals or resist insect pests. This has allowed farmers to increase yields and spray less pesticide than they might have otherwise.
Some of the new generation of GM crops now making their way from laboratory to market will tackle new problems, from apples that stave off discoloration to ‘Golden Rice’ and bright-orange bananas fortified with nutrients to improve the diets of people in the poorest countries.
Other next-generation crops will be created using advanced genetic-manipulation techniques that allow high-precision editing of the plant’s own genome.
Such approaches could reduce the need to modify commercial crops with genes imported from other species — one of the practices that most disturbs critics of genetic modification. And that, in turn, could conceivably reduce the public disquiet over GM foods.
But whatever promise these crops may show in the laboratory, they will still have to demonstrate their benefits in painstaking, expensive and detailed field trials, meet several regulatory requirements and reassure an often skeptical public.
That last part will not be easy, says Philip Bereano, who studies the political and social aspects of new technologies at the University of Washington, Seattle. He points out that the arguments over GM organisms run the gamut from concerns about safety and labeling to ethical issues with the patenting of life. “People are concerned about what they’re feeding their kids,” he says, “and that is not going to change.”
Most GM-organism researchers nevertheless seem convinced that the worst of the technology’s problems are over and that its future is bright.