Like life, the food we eat is a series of tradeoffs. Whether it’s that banana we buy at the local grocer or that cup of joe we drink at the corner coffee shop, chances are we are not eating or drinking the tastiest or most nutritious variety of the food but instead that which was able to last the longest in transit or is the most disease resistant.
But what if we could have the best of both worlds?
That’s the promise of CRISPR, a new technology that is essentially a form of genetic scissors allows scientists to “edit” DNA gene sequences. Imagine taking out the bad parts of a food’s DNA gene sequence while adding in or changing parts that help make it taste better or last longer.
That’s what scientists are already doing with CRISPR and gene editing techniques.
Rowe, a molecular microbiologist by training, gave the example of avocados as a food that could benefit from CRISPR and gene editing techniques. “Let’s say the best tasting avocados also happen to be the ones that bruise the easiest,” said Rowe. “So you had extremely tasty avocados that you couldn’t ship around the world and therefore they weren’t suited for live scale agriculture. But if you were to make a specific genetic change so that the flavor benefits you get, but you also retain the conventional longevity of this avocado on the shelf.”
But it’s not just helping food last longer, but also helping food survive as a crop.
“Think about all of these problems people are having with coffee,” said Rowe. “Coffee rust is a kinda of fungus that infects coffee plants. There’ s a big genetic component with that. if you make one genetic change within the coffee plant, the likelihood is, if you know what that change has to be, that you can stop that fungus infecting the coffee.
Whether it’s improving flavor, making food more nutritious, or helping it grow faster by speeding up the breeding process, CRISPR and genetic editing hold significant potential. Rowe does a good job not only explaining these potential applications, but also explains CRISPR in language non scientists like myself (and probably most of our listeners) can understand.