Get Regular Updates!
Search
|Genetically modified produce: misunderstood wonders

Food

Genetically modified produce: misunderstood wonders

Genetically modified produce: misunderstood wonders

From disease and drought-resistant crops to nutrient-boosted fruits and veggies, genetically modified plants are a marvel of modern science.

Genetically modified produce: misunderstood wonders

Thanks to GM crops, farmers have been able to upscale production of vital crops to feed our growing world. It is estimated that GM crops have increased the income of farmers by more than US$167 million since 1996.

GM crops are found pretty much everywhere, with more than 185 million hectares cultivated worldwide.

But in some countries, GM produce also has a long history of controversy, with health and environmental advocates arguing against their use, despite the science backing up their safety.

As a consequence, in countries like Australia, GM produce still has a long way to go before reaching our tables.

Super bananas and red-fleshed apples

Worldwide, around 250 million preschool children suffer from vitamin A deficiency because they don’t get enough of this vitamin in their diet. As a result, around half a million of these children develop blindness, and up to 250,000 will die within the first 12 months of losing sight.

But what if you could load a popular fruit with the needed vitamin? Recently, scientists from Queensland University of Technology tweaked the DNA of the humble banana to create a super banana. Unlike the regular banana, this GM banana is rich in provitamin A (a precursor of vitamin A in our bodies) and iron.

“What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in provitamin A but has small bunches and inserted it into a Cavendish banana,” says Professor James Dale, who led the development of this banana, in a recent press release.

Red-fleshed apples, loaded with anthocyanins, nature’s famous antioxidants, are another good example of a super GM fruit. The apples were first developed by Andrew Allan and Richard Espley at Plant & Food Research in New Zealand, and they are quite unique.

“Our engineered apples contain 11,000 micrograms [of anthocyanin] per apple. That’s a 120-fold increase!” says Andrew, comparing the red-fleshed apple to the average apple, which contains about 90 micrograms of anthocyanin. The super apples were developed by tweaking the function of a gene involved in anthocyanin production.

From disease & drought resistant crops to nutrient boosted fruits and veggies, genetically modified plants are a marvel of modern science. But GM produce also has a long history of controversy, with health & environmental advocates arguing against their use, despite the science backing up their safety.
Image|plantandfood
Red-fleshed apple
Genetically modified red-fleshed apples contain 120 times more anthocyanin than the average apple.

The Oz GM food scene

Sounds good? Unfortunately, you won’t see these super fruits in Australian supermarkets. In fact, the only GM crops currently allowed for cultivation and use in Australia are herbicide-tolerant canola and cotton.

Other GM crops are currently being tested across Australia, from pesticide-resistant bananas to super-sweet fruits.

“Field trials of pineapple, papayas, wheat, barley and sugarcane are under way in Australia. These products have been modified for insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, colour, oil production, sugar composition, flowering and fruit development,” says UWA Winthrop Professor Michael Blakeney.

However, none of these fruits and veggies are planned for public consumption any time soon.

Canola and cotton are the only GM crops approved for cultivation in WA

Canola and cotton are the only GM crops approved for cultivation in WA

A matter of trust (and money)

So, why don’t we see any red-fleshed apples or super bananas in our supermarkets?

Well, it might be partly our fault—sort of.

“I’m pretty sure the answer is still going to come down to money,” says Heather Bray, a research associate at the University of Adelaide, “as well as perceptions of consumer acceptability [which still comes down to money in the end as it’s a risk for investment],” she adds.

To cultivate or sell any GM organisms in Australia, you need approval from the Gene Technology Regulator. This takes a considerable investment of time and money. So it’s a bit of a risk if no one buys your product at the end.

Bananas are one example. “The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has approved field trials of bananas genetically modified for disease resistance,” says Heidi Mitchell, Director of the Plant Evaluation Section at OGTR. “But no one has applied for a commercial release of this GM banana,” she adds.

But don’t feel like you are missing out on the GM technology. Most likely, you have been eating GM-containing food already for a long time. Also, upcoming changes to the laws regulating genetic modification of crops are planned for this year. In November, the OGTR announced plans to allow the use of gene editing techniques without the need to apply for a GM licence. The idea is that, as long as the changes do not involve inserting any DNA from another species, all is good.

“If these technologies lead to outcomes no different to the processes people have been using for thousands of years, then there is no need to regulate them, because of their safe history of use,” said Raj Bhula from the OGTR in a recent news article.

If approved, these changes will allow for the quick development of disease-resistant, drought-resistant or high-yielding crops.

There are also several crops currently being tested in Australia. For a full list of what GM plants are approved in Australia, check out the OGTR website. Here you can see a map of where in Australia different GM crops are being tested. If you have something to say, you can even send your comments to the OGTR.

But, ultimately, if you want to see super bananas or red-fleshed apples on your table, a change of heart is needed in the Australian marketplace.

Snake Oil VIDEO

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?