Could ‘genetically edited’ fruits avoid the GMO backlash?

August 15, 2014

Genetically edited fruits could lead to apples that don’t brown when sliced (credit: iStock)

Recent advances in precise editing of genomes now raise the possibility that fruit and other crops might be genetically improved without the need to introduce foreign genes, as in  genetically modified organisms (GMOs), say researchers writing in the Cell Press publication Trends in Biotechnology on August 13.

The notion is that “genetically edited” fruits might be met with greater acceptance than GMOs. This could mean “super bananas” that produce more vitamin A and apples that don’t brown when cut, for example.

For instance, changes to the characteristics of fruit might be made via small genetic tweaks designed to increase or decrease the amounts of natural ingredients that their plant cells already make.Such genome editing has become possible due to the advent of new tools, such as CRISPR and TALEN, and also because of the extensive and growing knowledge of fruit genomes.

So far, editing tools have not been applied to the genetic modification of fruit crops. Most transgenic fruit crop plants have been developed using a plant bacterium to introduce foreign genes. The researchers say that genetically edited plants, modified through the insertion, deletion, or altering of existing genes of interest, might be deemed as non-genetically modified, depending on the interpretation of the EU commission and member state regulators.

Abstract of Trends in Biotechnology paper

The availability of genome sequences for many fruit crops has redefined the boundaries of genetic engineering and genetically modified (GM) crop plants. However commercialization of GM crops is hindered by numerous regulatory and social hurdles. Here, we focus on recently developed genome-editing tools for fruit crop improvement and their importance from the consumer perspective. Challenges and opportunities for the deployment of new genome-editing tools for fruit plants are also discussed.