Cellular Agriculture: Vegans Dream or Meat-eaters Nightmare?

The day is coming when there will be a more efficient supply chain for the production of meat and meat by-products. A new field of science known as Cellular Agriculture is using bioengineering technology to produce meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and leather, in a laboratory instead of on a farm. You could drink cow’s milk, and eat eggs, meat, and poultry without the unwanted saturated fats, cholesterol, hormones, and antibiotics. Tissue engineering is even being employed in biofabrication of leather and fur, negating moral issues of raising animals for clothing and luxury. All of this without the use or slaughter of  animals.

What is Cellular Agriculture? 

Cellular agriculture is a new way to cultivate foods normally produced through traditional agriculture. Instead of raising livestock for meat, dairy, and other meat by-products, these items are produced in a lab, without the slaughter and continuous use of animals. Foods like eggs, milk, and beef can be bioengineered ex-vivo – using cell culture methods. Cellular agriculture can produce both cellular and acellular products. Cellular products, like beef, chicken, and turkey, are made by culturing cells derived from the original animal. Acellular products on the other hand do not contain any mammalian cells, and are derived from bioengineered microbes. Continue reading

Genetically Modified Fish for Human Consumption: the FACTS!

Atlantic Salmon

Genetically modified crops have been on the market for decades in the United States, and other parts of the world. However, this fall the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved the first-ever genetically modified animal for human consumption, and there is much public push-back and concern. AquAdvantage fish are Atlantic Salmon produced by the AquaBounty Technologies Corporation (formerly AquaBounty Farms). So, what’s all the concern really about? Read on to find out what you need to know Continue reading

The first Genetically Modified Food in the United States was the Tomato

macgregorsDid you know the first FDA approved Genetically Modified Food, commonly known by the acronym GMO (genetically modified organism), was the tomato? It was introduced in the United states back in 1994 and was developed by the company Calgene Inc.

Below I have posted citations from two newspapers:

Pratt, S. (1994, May 19). CHICAGO AREA GETS TO SAMPLE NEW BREED OF TOMATO. Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/283811180?accountid=14068
Can biotechnology provide flavorful, garden-fresh tomatoes to supermarkets across America year round? Shoppers in the Chicago area and parts of California should find out by the end of the month now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Flavr Savrtomato, the country’s first genetically engineered foodstuff. Developed by Calgene Inc. of Davis, Calif., over 10 years, Flavr Savr tomatoes are genetically modified to resist rot so they can ripen fully on the vine but still hold up during shipping and storage. “The Flavr Savr process will be able to provide Chicago with a flavorful backyard tomato, but one that is grown in Mexico,” said Roger Salquist, chief executive officer of Calgene. They could begin showing up in the next 10 days.

Dailey, P. (1994, May 26). HOT TOMATO HOW DOES THE NEW FLAVR SAVR TASTE? Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/283785985?accountid=14068
The first genetically-altered tomatoes appeared at a Chicago-area market Saturday after being heralded by the producer as the first year-round tomato with a vine-ripe taste of summer. But a Food Guide blind tasting this week found the tomato did not deliver on that promise. Flavr Savr tomatoes, approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration, are marketed commercially under the name MacGregor by Calgene Inc., a California-based biotechnology firm. They have been genetically engineered so their aging process slows to a crawl. This allows them to spend more time ripening on the vine, ostensibly so the flavor can develop naturally with the full benefit of sun and soil. Earlier this week the Food Guide gathered from various markets six varieties of tomatoes including the Flavr Savr and staged a blind tasting. Put to the test were cherry and regular tomatoes from Holland, purchased at Whole Foods and Treasure Island supermarkets respectively; regular tomatoes from Omni Foods; plum tomatoes from Whole Foods; regular tomatoes from Market Place, and the MacGregor tomato.

The Calgene modified tomato was dubbed the MacGregor tomato. It is genetically modified to express an extra copy of a gene that codes for an enzyme known as polygalacturonate (PG). Polygalacturonate is responsible for the softening of fruit as they ripen, but the modification actually decreases the amount of PG in fruit. This results in tougher skin, and a reduction in the age associated softening of the fruit; which is the reason why these tomatoes are said to last longer and be more flavorful. There is also another gene added to the tomato: ” In approving the Calgene tomato as safe, the FDA also allowed the use of the kanamycin-resistant gene as a safe food additive…It is used as a “marker gene” to determine which plants have been successfully modified and is harmless..”.

You can read more about GMO’s here

News Article from 1983 talks about Genetically Engineered Vaccines

Written  for the Wall Street Journal by Jerry E.  Bishop and Michael Waldholz, the article is entitled New Genetically Engineered Vaccines Aim at Blocking Infectious Disease in Millions.

I stumbled upon this article written way back in 1983. It’s amazing, to see what appears to be a current health issue dating back so far. I was only a fetus at the time!

vaccinegmo copy

The article talks about the vaccines “being spurred by major advances in genetic engineering” The ability to manipulate genes and transfer them from one organism to another being called “new found”. The writer goes on to say that “the vaccines represent the first major change in vaccine technology in almost 200 years.”

Instead of using weakened pathogens like viruses and bacteria to make vaccines, the genetically engineered vaccines would use antigens (proteins present on the surface of microbes) to trick the body into recognizing the vaccines active agent as the pathogen itself. The problem with old vaccines is that although it seems simple to weaken  or kill a bacteria or virus, it’s actually quiet difficult. Hence why we don’t have a cure for every infectious disease. According to the article there are difficulties in the new engineered method; in that it’s still tricky to identify the right antigens to elicit the appropriate response from the body. At the time, scientists even hoped to create a multi-purpose vaccine that would present many antigens from many different pathogens.  However:

“But there is a roadblock instead of using just purified antigens as a vaccine, the New York NIH approach uses a whole virus that has been genetically manipulated to carry “foreign” genes from other viruses it is, in essence, a genetically-engineered organism that would be injected into humans. There already are fears-unfounded-the scientists say- about releasing genetically engineered organism into the environment. Federal regulators are likely to be extremely cautious about using such a vaccine in humans.” 

Who cares, It’s all GMO?!

Okay, so I was on my Facebook sometime ago and noticed a heated debate about some change Chipotle made to its menu and why it wasn’t a big deal because “everything is GMO”. The problem with this argument was that the commenters were fighting with each other but nobody seemed to really know what a GMO is, never the less what the acronym even stands for. I felt my blood pressure rising with every comment that I read. I didn’t know how to step in without demeaning the poster, or insulting any of the commenters. But, I knew I had to…as a scientist it was my duty. It got a little heated but after much example giving, and assurance that I was qualified to speak on such things, egos were assuaged, cooler heads prevailed, and much knowledge was “dropped”.

So what is GMO? 

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Also referred to as genetically engineered organism, bioengineered food, or transgenic organism/food, simply put, a GMO is one that has a gene inserted into its own DNA from another organism using what is known as recombinant DNA technology. The “new” gene confers some beneficial trait or characteristic such as: increased nutritional value, herbicide or pesticide resistance, faster maturation, increased size, or bug and disease resistance.

Which foods/organisms are GMO?

Although it seems new, in the United States GM crops were introduced back in the 1990’s. Everything is not genetically modified, only some bioengineered crops have been allowed by the government to be used as or in food, food products, animal feed, and fibers. Currently the most common GM crops in commercial use are corn, canola, soybean, potatoes, tomatoes, sugar beets, wheat, and cotton, among a few others.

Which foods are not GMO?

Foods that are made from GMO’s would be any product containing ingredients from the above mentioned crops. Naturally, we think of cereals, breads, oils, syrups, and food snacks. So, when reading the ingredient list on the back of the package, and you find soybean and corn as ingredients, know that most likely those products contains GMO’s. Other less obvious foods products might be soups and sauces that are thickened with cornstarch or contain tomatoes, mayonnaise, and sugars.

There still remains a lot of confusion, because people just don’t understand all the jargon and lingo. Here, I will pause to rebuff all of you who said you would never need biology or science in the real world…but I digress. The point is, seedless grapes, the pink color of salmon, hybrid fruits like grapefruit, and the use of pesticides or herbicides does not make an organism genetically modified. Seedless fruit like watermelon do contain seeds, its just that their seeds have not reached maturation, or the fruit was not fertilized by pollination. Methods of agriculture such as hybridization (cross-breeding) have been around for almost forever, and has nothing to do with recombinant engineering. Although some unscrupulous manufacturers have added dyes to enhance the color of some pink salmon, pink salmon is already naturally pink. Furthermore, no GMO animals or fish are commercially available for public consumption. Pesticides and herbicides are applied to the soil and outside the crop and does not change the crops DNA or genetic makeup.

So Is it a big deal or not?

Many people worry that because a foreign gene has been added to their food that it will harm them. The Food and Drug Administration monitors the safety of all foods here in the U.S. and GMOs have been on the market for about 2 decades now. Some people are afraid because people are just often afraid of new things, especially when they don’t understand what it is. However, there are some real concerns. For instance, if a fruit has a gene from another fruit that someone is allergic to, that modified fruit might now carry that same protein that causes an allergic reaction in that person. The FDA test all GMO’s for allergenicity and toxicity prior to approving it for consumption. Often times, processing and cooking of the GMO denatures or breaks down and otherwise removes the genes and proteins in it before consumption. So for those who are worried that the new gene may become incorporated into their own DNA, well that won’t happen. The genes of the fruits and vegetable that we eat that are not GMO are not incorporated into our DNA, and neither are those of GMOs. Trangenic crops and the foods derived from them  are NOT frankenstein monsters that are coming to destroy us from the inside out. They do have many benefits, potatoes for example have been modified to resist “blight” a disease that destroyed potato crops. Other crops are engineered to repel or kill the bugs that try to eat them, thereby reducing the use of pesticides, and increase yields.