GMOs: genetically-edited crops

Gene editing agriculture:

  • USDA regulations on GMOs apply only to those constructed using plant pathogens like bacteria, or their DNA; gene-edited plants are not regulated
  • Calyxt: startup that edits the genes of thousands of plants
    • scientists create designer plants that don’t have foreign DNA; adds or deletes snippets of genes—”accelerated breeding”
    • uses TALEN, co-developed by Calyxt founder, which was developed two years earlier than CRISPR, and as such has advanced further toward commercial crops
    • has designed 19 plants
      • edited soybeans to use in healthier oils (without trans fat)
        • will face competition with similar beans, ie a Monsanto GMO
      • including a wheat plant that grinds into a white flour with 3x more fiber
    • fast-to-market business model
  • obstacles:
    • easier to design and make DNA strands than to get them inside plants
    • uncertainty over which genes should be edited
      • Scientists know how oils are synthesized and why fruit turns brown, but genetic causes for other plant traits that are both well understood and easy to alter are unknown


  • 90% of the soybean crop in the US are GMOs, genetically enhanced to be immune to Roundup
  • stigma: 40% of US adults think GMOs are less healthy
    • warring messages from scientists, agriculture lobbies, and NGOs like Greenpeace
  • legal in the US, Brazil, Argentina, and India, but banned throughout much of the rest of the world
  • unclear whether gene-edited crops are considered GMOs
    • no way to tell a gene-edited plant from a natural one
    • Lack of scrutiny of whether the plants could harm insects, spread their genetic enhancements to wild populations, or create superweeds
    • New Zealand and USDA’s organic council decided they are GMOs; the Netherlands and Sweden decided they weren’t; China and EU have yet to decide

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