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Gene-edited tomatoes: British scientists create tomatoes with vitamin D ‘soup’ | Science & Technology News



British scientists have used gene editing technology to create a tomato soup that contains as much vitamin D as two eggs or a serving of tuna.

The development comes the same week that the government will propose a change to the law to make it easier to grow and sell genetically modified crops.

Scientists at the John Innes Center in Norwich created the tomato by turning off one of its genes.

Tomatoes naturally make a lot of the chemical precursors of vitamin D, but plants often use this to make other biochemicals they need.

By deleting the gene that carries out this chemical process in the plant, the researchers boosted levels of the vitamin D precursor. When normal sunlight hits the leaves and fruit, the chemical converts the chemical into Vitamin D3.

Professor Cathie Martin, who led the study, published in the journal Nature Plants, said: “Forty per cent of Europeans are vitamin D deficient and so are a billion people around the world.

“Tomato can be developed as a sustainable plant-based source of vitamin D3, she said.

Gene editing (GE) is fundamentally different from traditional gene editing or genetic modification technology. Most genetically modified products contain synthetic genes or genes from another organism that are introduced into the plant or animal of interest.

For example, insect-resistant cotton and soybeans, widely grown around the world, contain a gene originally found in bacteria.

In contrast, gene editing alters the characteristics of an animal or plant by deleting, swapping, or repeating genes already present in the organism’s genetic code.

Currently, UK law – copied from European law – does not distinguish between GM and GE and it is virtually impossible to bring genetically modified products to market.

On Wednesday, their government will introduce the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which aims to limit a wide range of regulations around gene editing. The aim is to reduce the time it takes to bring a gene-edited product to market from a few years to a few months.

The basis of the rule change is the difference between GM and GE. It argues that changes resulting from gene editing could, in theory, be introduced by conventional breeding techniques.

Developers will have to demonstrate that their product can be created “naturally”. Current restrictions on GM technology will remain the same.

The changes will initially only apply to plants and will only be extended to genetically edited animals once potential animal welfare issues have been resolved.

Many environmental groups still oppose gene editing, arguing that since it involves the initial step of inserting foreign DNA into the plant for editing (it is then removed again), it is not a the “natural” way.

Pat Thomas, director of Beyond GM, said the change in the law would open the door to more and more invasive moves.

“Gene editing that does not involve the insertion of foreign genes is completely wrong,” she said.

“In fact, gene editing is a suite of technologies that ranges from simple splicing to complex insertion of foreign genes. And features that really excite scientists, such as the ability to disease resistance and drought resistance, simply cannot be achieved without these complex technological interventions.”

It is a low challenge for environmentalists. Conventional farming has a major negative impact on the environment. In theory, gene editing could help solve those problems.

Engineering crops to fight disease or pests can have major benefits for the environment and biodiversity through reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Tolerance to drought and heat can improve crop yields as our climate changes.

But there is also a challenge for scientists and biotechnologists. The GM products introduced so far (which are admittedly GM varieties) have increased yields and resulted in a decrease in the amount of pesticides used. But the impact of agriculture on deforestation and water use continues to grow.

The industry will have to convince consumers for the benefit of all of us, not just the marketing or development of new gene-edited products.



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