The Taste of Tomorrow

 

Since this is the inaugural post in the Good GMOs category, let’s briefly explain our position.

You can use a computer to build a web site that raises money for starving refugees in Darfur.   You can also use a computer to create malware that destroys web sites, disables businesses, and thwarts efforts to raise money for starving refugees in Darfur. You can use airplanes to deliver food.  Or you can airplanes to deliver bombs.

It’s true.  There are some bad genetically engineered crops out there. Some GMOs, circa 2011,  are created by rapacious petrochemical corporations.  They are herbicide and pesticide tolerant, so they encourage the spraying of more chemicals on crops, that, in turn, increase sales for these large petrochemical corporations. Intellectual property law, circa 2011, makes it possible for the wealthiest, most powerful corporations to own genes, the very building blocks of life. It’s true that GMOs, by and large, circa 2011, advance monoculture, thwart biodiversity and are not the ally of small farmers.

Still,  as with computers, and other technologies, there are BAD THINGS and there are GOOD THINGS.

One of the goals of The Taste of Tomorrow is to spotlight smart, safe, promising uses of GMO crops that can help protect the earth, improve food quality, and save lives.

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As many parents of  school-age children in the US know,  peanut butter – once a staple of school lunches – is often verboten.

Peanuts and  peanut butter are banned by a number of schools across the country, and others have created so-called “nut-free zones.”  There’s some talk that the FAA will institute a total ban on peanuts on commercial airlines. This makes sense.  Although the numbers of people allergic to peanuts is small, those who are allergic have a a potentially life-threatening response.. Even trace amounts of peanut dust can leave a child covered in hives and gasping for air.

(Personal encounter: When my four-year-old daughter mistakenly called her sunflower butter sandwich a peanut butter sandwich, we got an immediate call from a school administrator. Why? There’s a boy in her class with an extreme peanut allergy.

But there is promising work  that could bring peanuts back to schools.  Even allowing Kate’s classmate to have a PB&J some day.

For the past decade, Peggy Ozias-Akins of the University of Georgia in Tifton has been using genetic engineering to grow hypoallergenic peanuts.

In research profiled widely in the biotech world,  Ozias-Akins and her team have developed peanuts that do not produce two proteins that are among the most intense allergens.   A story in Wired, summarizes the paper that appeared in the Journal of Food Chemistry:

The biologists shot a customized DNA sequence into the plants with a gene gun, causing the legumes to produce hairpin-shaped RNA molecules, which halt the production of the two proteins. Messing with the genetic code of a plant could potentially cause the seeds to develop improperly, change the taste of the crop, or render it more susceptible to fungal infections. But Ozias-Akins’ team found that they grow normally and can resist a common mold without any problems.

Still, getting rid of every allergy-causing substance in peanuts would not be easy, Ozias-Akins said. “Given the number of allergenic proteins in peanuts, I doubt that developing an allergen-free peanut is realistic.” Although it may be impossible to make a perfectly safe peanut, clipping the right genes out could make food accidents far less common.

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