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article imageCRISPR-Cas9 may be the answer to feeding our growing world

By Karen Graham     Sep 6, 2016 in Science
For possibly the first time ever, two people sat down to a meal featuring fried cabbage that had been genetically modified using "genetic scissors," and had been cultivated, harvested and cooked in Europe. You might even say it was an historic occasion.
The cabbage's genome had been edited with CRISPR-Cas9, a relatively easy technique, so they say, that allows scientists to make changes to a living organism's DNA.
In this case, Stefan Jansson, a professor in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at Umeå University, served pasta with "CRISPRy" vegetable fry to a local radio news reporter, Gustaf Klarin, says the Daily Mail.
Stefan Jansson  a professor in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at Umeå University. Photo taken by ...
Stefan Jansson, a professor in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at Umeå University. Photo taken by :Johan Gunséus on May 8, 2013.
Umeå University/ Stefan Jansson
CRISPR-Cas9 technology was advanced by Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a professor in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She found that by using a protein called Cas9, the CRISPR approach could be much easier to accomplish.
CRISPR genome editing is used to remove certain genetic mutations from a genome. Reporting in Digital Journal in April, Tim Sandle wrote that scientists, in animal tests, could switch potentially faulty genes with other healthy ones. Using "genetic scissors," could lead to the prevention of hereditary diseases, such as Huntington's Disease and Cystic Fibrosis.
When CRISPR genome editing is used in plants, it could increase crop resistance to pests and weather conditions or get rid of other unwanted or undesirable traits. This is what Dr. Yinong Yang, who is employed at Penn State University, did when he cut away a small part of one gene from the mushroom Agaricus bisporus, reducing the browning found in mushrooms after they are sliced.
Gene editing versus genetically modified organisms
In genetically modified organisms, such as GMO crops, the DNA has been modified to include genes from other organisms to produce a particular trait. In CRISPR gene-editing, genes are cut out and sometimes new ones are put into the space. Yes, the DNA was altered, and herein lies what may become a problem in the future.
As far as Dr. Yinong Yang's mushroom goes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruled that the gene-edited mushroom did not require regulation, much to the consternation of many anti-GMOers, because nothing foreign had been added.
The regulations surrounding gene-edited foods in Europe are also sometimes tricky to navigate, as the Swedish researcher found out. Plants that fall within the definition of a GMO are not allowed to be grown in the field in Europe, according to New Atlas.
From Jansson s blog: I take a lap around my herb garden and pick up some of this and some of that. H...
From Jansson's blog: I take a lap around my herb garden and pick up some of this and some of that. Having washed the vegetables, I bring the pasta water to the boil. Just before it boils, I start frying the vegetables.
Umeå University/ Dr. Stefan Jansson
The research team at Umea University went before the Swedish Board of Agriculture, asking that they are allowed to grow the cabbage because it fell outside the definition of a GMO crop. The Swedish Board of Agriculture, like the USDA, agreed that a gene-edited plant is not the same as a GMO crop, and allowed the team to grow their cabbage.
The researchers point out that while it may seem strange that an openly gene-edited plant was classified as not being a GMO, because it isn't, it also points out the flaws in the current definition and regulations governing GMOs.
So, how was the CRISPR cabbage? In a blog post, Professor Jansson wrote: "To our delight – and to some extent my surprise – the meal turned out really nice. Both of us ate with great relish. Gustaf even thought the cabbage was the best tasting vegetable on the plate, and I agreed."
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