Healthier oil from gene-edited soybeans similar in composition to olive oil is now being used to fry foods and as an ingredient in salad dressings. To produce Calyno oil, the biotech company Calyxt gene-edited soybeans to turn off two genes involved with fatty-acid synthesis. In the past, hydrogenating soy oil to give it a longer shelf life produced unhealthy trans fats. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods. Calyno oil contains no trans fats while having up to three times the fry life and extended shelf life of regular soy oil.
Unlike traditional versions of genetically engineered crops, gene-editing does not involve adding genes from other organisms to endow crops with beneficial characteristics such as disease, pest, and herbicide resistance. Gene-editing creates changes that are essentially equivalent to natural mutations.
Sadly, the usual environmental activist groups want to stymie this advance in crop biotechnology. "The products of all techniques of genetic engineering, including gene editing, should be regulated using the Precautionary Principle* to protect human health and the environment," asserts a Friends of the Earth (FOE) report deprecative of gene-editing. "All genetic engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government regulatory oversight of genetic engineering and GMOs." Vexingly, the European Union has adopted the FOE's position and has decided to impose the same cumbersome regulations for genetically modified crops on gene-edited crops.
Calyxt has been able to get its soy oil so quickly to market because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has sensibly decided that it will not regulate gene-edited crops. This is great news for consumers and farmers since developing and marketing a traditional genetically modified crop typically costs $150 million. The costs of developing new crops via gene-editing will likely be 90 percent lower. And instead of taking 12 years to move from development to commercialization, a gene-edited crop can get to market in just five years.
Calyxt has several other gene-edited crop varieties in its research and development pipeline including wheat that resists powdery mildew and contains three times more fiber, potatoes that resist blight, drought-tolerant soybeans, and reduced-lignin alfalfa.
John Dombrosky, CEO of venture capital consortium AgTech Accelerator told Bloomberg that gene-editing "will be set free to do tremendous things across the ag continuum, and the promise is just gigantic. We'll be able to fine-tune food for amazing health and nutrition benefits."
Calyxt's soy oil is just the first of many new improved crops that will soon be in your local grocery store.
*Precautionary principle: Never do anything for the first time.