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Will we be able to find natural food in the near future in the context of the application of new technologies of genetic engineering in the production of food? Constantinople acquaints readers with a new topic, using the data of the report “Synthetic biology. GMO 2.0”by the largest international environmental organization“Friends of the Earth”and other public initiatives.
There are more and more people in the world who are ready to buy products made from natural ingredients. Products that are free of GMOs, pesticides, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavor enhancers and other additives. Products that are not only safer for health, but are also produced within the framework of a traditional concept based on harmony with nature, diversity of cultures and traditions. President Putin also recently announced that Russia will create and promote its own brand of sustainable products.
This trend is viewed by its supporters as the opposite of mass production, which depletes land and exploits the desire to consume as many goods as possible, regardless of how necessary or useful they are and what the cost of their production for the environment. The customer gets the illusion of choice: twenty varieties of sausage or cheese with different chemical and genetically modified fillings, differing from each other only in appearance, instead of fresh, natural and truly delicious meat and dairy products from a local manufacturer.
But, despite the growing demand for high-quality and traditional products, every year its production becomes an increasingly difficult task. Consumer and environmental organizations in Europe, supporters of organic agriculture in Russia seem to have only succeeded in ensuring that manufacturers monitor the GMO content in their products, as the technology that is commonly called GMO 2.0 or synthetic biology has become widely used.
The so-called first-generation GMOs are organisms created by inserting a foreign gene into an unrelated organism in order to impart new properties, that is, transgenes. GMO 2.0 are living organisms whose genome has been edited in completely new ways. In this case, the target organism could either get a new property or lose an existing one if some gene was removed from it.
What is gene editing that is currently being used to produce various kinds of supplements and food ingredients? In recent years, the CRISPR Cas9 technology is often used for this. It is based on the immunity of the bacteria. Genetic engineers have learned to use it to change plants, animals, and even people.
Bacteria are good at repelling the attacks of any viruses, and in order to do this, they produce special enzymes. When a bacterium kills a virus, it copies a part of its DNA for itself, inside the so-called CRISPR sequences, so that later, when it encounters this virus again, it can also destroy it with the help of a new part of its "immune cassette".
When attacked by a virus, the bacterium reproduces the Cas9 protein. If this protein is deceived by giving it artificial RNA and a bio-cassette with it is launched into the body, then the protein carrying such RNA will look for genetic fragments that match what it has. Having found a correspondence with someone else's DNA, he will begin to "cut" it, be it the DNA of a virus, plant or animal. This technology is also called genomic scissors.
In this way, you can not only remove a gene or any section from DNA, but also insert others in their place. To do this, you only need to add enzymes that repair DNA. It is believed that this is technologically much simpler and cheaper than creating GMOs using a “traditional” technique, for example, using biological ballistics, when a cell is literally fired at from a so-called biolistic cannon in order to insert the desired foreign gene into it. And for the removal of genes it is very convenient at all. According to some estimates, the cost of one CRISPR Cas9 editing in a US laboratory will be about $ 75. There, in online stores, you can even buy an application for a mobile phone that describes the creation of CRISPR cassettes.
Such bioengineering is planned to be used in agriculture and other industrial sectors. However, the question still remains open of how safe it is to massively replace some healthy genes in living organisms with others, to remove, for example, healthy genes from wheat or soybeans, but "unnecessary" for the seed producer. Or in general - edit insects for chemical resistance.
GMO or not?
So far, gene editing is very actively used to create genetically modified factory organisms (for example, GM yeast, GM bacteria, and GM algae) that produce certain substances for the food and cosmetic industries.
In Russia, such additives are not yet widespread, but they may well be present on the food and cosmetics market. There is no separate regulation of the turnover of such organisms (both themselves and their derivatives). They may soon be recognized as equivalents of traditional GMOs and then come under the current regulation. This means that foods and supplements made from GM sources will be labeled accordingly.
If gene editing products are not recognized as “traditional” GMOs, the situation will be different. Due to the fact that gene editing is also used to change the body without inserting a foreign gene, lobbyists for the technology in the European Union demand that it be recognized as not subject to regulation by legislation in the field of GMOs. So far, they have not succeeded, but in the homeland of CRISPR, in the United States, it is not considered special and is not separately regulated.
How to distinguish a natural product from a GMO product? Genetically modified microorganisms of the first generation and products from them in our country are subject to labeling. The product must indicate whether such an organism was used in the receipt of its components. For example, beer is produced from conventional or transgenic yeast.
Due to the fact that organisms created by the editing method have not yet received a clear status in our country, their derivatives may well be contained in food products without labeling, even the manufacturer may not know that he is using a flavor enhancer, yeast or some kind of filler. created from the edited organism. That is why ecologists believe that such information should be open and accessible to everyone, so that the consumer can choose between a natural product and one produced using synthetic biology.