KANSAS CITY — The promise of genome editing is rapidly approaching reality in food and beverage with ingredients derived using the advanced plant breeding techniques nearing commercialization. The efforts represent a step forward in the development of technologies that one day may rapidly assume a major role in crop and ingredient production.
Genome editing has attracted greater attention as new editing technologies have been developed. The process gives researchers the ability to make precise changes in the DNA of living organisms by removing, introducing or substituting nucleotides at specific sites within the genome.
The biotechnology company Calyxt, Inc., Minneapolis, in early October entered into an agreement with KemX Global to refine Calyxt’s high-oleic soybean oil developed using genome editing. The ingredient is expected to be introduced to the market later this year or in 2019.
A few weeks after that announcement, Calyxt said it completed the harvest of a newly developed high-fiber wheat it developed. The company now will seek to validate the product concept in field conditions and to complete food application studies. The company said the high-fiber wheat is on track for commercialization in 2020 or 2021.
Efforts to bring the Calyxt’s ingredients to market gained a significant boost this past March when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has no plans to regulate plants that otherwise could have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not pests or developed using plant pests.
“This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods,” the U.S.D.A. said. “The newest of these methods, such as genome editing, expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.”
The development of genome editing techniques holds extraordinary promise.
The U.S.D.A.’s position stands in contrast to the European Union. The European Court of Justice ruled in July crops developed using genome editing are to be regulated in the same fashion as genetically modified organisms. The designation creates a regulatory hurdle that may stifle product development in the region.
The Food and Drug Administration’s position remains unclear. While the agency is supportive of genome editing technologies, how it may regulate finished products containing ingredients derived from crops or animals developed using the techniques is unknown. This past June, the agency said it will “continue to apply a risk-based framework grounded in sound science to evaluate products of plant and animal biotechnology, and our framework will continue to evolve as science advances and experience with these technologies grows.”
How consumers will react to the use of genome editing to develop ingredients and foods is unclear as well. What should be of concern is the possibility consumers will not distinguish between genome editing and G.M.O.s., and the same backlash that has stifled the development of finished products featuring the benefits of G.M.O. ingredients hinders the market for ingredients sourced from genome edited crops.
The development of genome editing techniques holds extraordinary promise and stands to significantly benefit the global food and medical industries. Such scientific advancements are rare, and it is hoped this one achieves its lofty potential.