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Gene-Edited Foods Just Took a Big Step Toward Commercialization

Words by Sarah Peyok

The path for gene-edited foods to widespread commercialization has begun, and they could be an important key to unlocking questions over long-term food security worldwide.

Agriculture technology ("agtech") companies of all sizes are vying to enter commercial food markets. Last month, when news broke about the first successful food made with a gene-edited crop, some suggested this new technology could leave genetically modified foods (along with their controversies and regulations) “in the dust.” Various stories focused on the startup Calyxt’s first commercial sale of Calyno high oleic soybean oil to the foodservice industry.

Now, the commercialization of gene-edited foods (or as Calyxt dubs it, “concept to fork”) is one step closer to reality.

Why is the race on to advance gene-edited food for commercial purposes? Dr. Oliver Peoples, CEO of Yield10 Bioscience, a player in this evolving field, explained in an interview with TriplePundit:

“Enhancing global food security through improved seed yield and crop resilience is key to ensuring we’re able to produce enough food and feed, using the space and resources that we have available. The global population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion by the year 2050, and this population increase will require substantial additional food resources. In addition to this growth trend, worldwide, consumers are also demanding more dairy and protein in their diets.”

Yield10 says it has been working to improve seed yield in commercial oilseed crops to tap into emerging market opportunities and address unmet needs for global food security. The company recently announced the advancement of the yield-enhancing C3003 gene trait into commercial development for canola (fields of which are shown in the photo above). Since canola oil has a neutral flavor, high smoke point and smooth texture, it is one of the most versatile, and most used, cooking oils.

“Yield10 is focused primarily on increasing canola seed yield for the purpose of edible oil production and for food and feed purposes. The harvested canola oil can be used to produce cooking oil while the meal from this crop can be used for animal feed for cattle, poultry and swine,” Dr. Peoples adds.

While beefing up seed yield may sound ominous, some biotechnology and agtech companies are making transparency a priority. As reported previously on TriplePundit, C3003—a gene found in algae—has produced encouraging seed yield improvements in oilseed crops. How does a gene found in algae work to improve canola oil production?

The C3003 yield trait was discovered through one of the company’s academic partnerships funded by ARPA-e, a division of the Department of Energy, Dr. Peoples told us. It appears to be a unique genetic trait that impacts photorespiration, a biochemical pathway in C3 plants, which is responsible for significant losses in yield.

As C3003 is based on a gene from algae, Yield10 is testing the trait in a number of major crops including canola, soybean and corn. The company conducted field tests with canola last year, which produced encouraging results as the trait produced seed yield increases of up to 11 percent in the most resilient strains of canola tested. 

Yield10 will progress C3003 in canola into the commercial development phase in 2019. As such, more field tests of C3003 in canola are planned this year, Dr. Peoples said.

“At Yield10, we believe that new genome editing techniques, such as CRISPR, which enable precise changes to the plant genome, have the potential to transform the agriculture industry,” Dr. Peoples told us. “Precision engineering in crops such as canola, Camelina, soybean, corn and others may also enable the creation of healthier nutritional profiles from our crops, such as oils with healthier fat profiles and higher fiber wheat.”

In addition, Yield10’s technology could enable higher yielding crops by optimizing photosynthesis and carbon efficiency as well as develop additional crops that could become more drought resistant. Both farmers and consumers would benefit from these new agricultural technologies, Dr. Peoples claimed.

Despite the broadsides lobbed at this industry, such as “Frankenfood,” technology could well be effective at safely increasing crop yield on a planet that is under increased strain due to rapid population growth, the continued loss of farmland and, of course, climate change.

Image credit: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay

Sarah Peyok

Based in the Midwest just north of Detroit, Sarah is passionate about sustainability, storytelling and bringing to light sustainability principles that can be threaded into business strategies and communications. Formerly an editor for CSRwire and freelance writer for many organizations forwarding the principles of corporate social responsibility and circularity, she is excited to be a contributor to TriplePundit. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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