A super-banana that contains more vitamin A than any banana currently on the market? An apple that doesn't turn brown after it's sliced? Fruits and vegetables of all kinds that offer better nutrition and stay fresh longer than even the priciest produce at Whole Foods? If you think we're talking about GMOs, think again. Scientists are pioneering the next wave of alterations: genetically edited organisms. This research could soon bring the superbanana (and the superapple, and superplum, and superkumquat) to a supermarket shelf near you.
A new report released earlier this week in the journal Cell Press lays out the potential of "genetically edited fruit crops" to transform agribusiness. The researchers, who hail from a mix of Italian universities, acknowledge that GMOs have had a pretty rough time in the public eye, despite the fact that no conclusive evidence indicates they pose any health risk to consumers.
Nonetheless, concerns about the health and safety of GMOs are numerous, and opposition to them passionate. Critics point out that genetically modified organisms might interact with the environment in unexpected ways (potentially damaging other organisms) and/or harm human health (possibly introducing inadvertent allergens into the food supply). GEOs, on the other hand, have the potential to assuage these concerns, while remaining better-growing and more nutritious than their au naturel counterparts.
The difference between GMOs and GEOs lies in the word "edited." To create many genetically modified organisms, scientists transfer genes that produce desirable traits from one organism to another. When "foreign genes" are transplanted into an organism, that organism is called "transgenic." When genetically editing organisms, however, scientists make "tweaks" to the existing genomes of crops, thereby increasing or decreasing the ingredients those plants already produce (vitamin A, for example). The scientists who wrote the Cell Press report detailing this progress hope that soon, GEOs will be accepted — and eaten — by all.
"We would like people to understand that crop breeding through biotechnology is not restricted only to GMOs," said co-author Chidananda Nagamangala Kanchiswamy of the Istituto Agrario San Michele in Italy. "Transfer of foreign genes was the first step to improve our crops, but GEOs will surge as a 'natural' strategy to use biotechnology for a sustainable agricultural future." Given the amount of good fruit we've accidentally allowed to go brown, we'll be first in line for a superbanana when this future arrives.