Science

First gene-edited meal served up from CRISPR cabbage

This meal of pasta and fried vegetables marked the first time a plant had been cooked and eaten that had had its genome edited with the CRISPR-Cas9 tool
This meal of pasta and fried vegetables marked the first time a plant had been cooked and eaten that had had its genome edited with the CRISPR-Cas9 tool
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This meal of pasta and fried vegetables marked the first time a plant had been cooked and eaten that had had its genome edited with the CRISPR-Cas9 tool
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This meal of pasta and fried vegetables marked the first time a plant had been cooked and eaten that had had its genome edited with the CRISPR-Cas9 tool
Umea University's Stefan Jansson served the CRISPR cabbage along with pasta, snowpeas, bruschetta bread and other veggies and herbs
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Umea University's Stefan Jansson served the CRISPR cabbage along with pasta, snowpeas, bruschetta bread and other veggies and herbs

It's not often that two people sitting down to dinner marks a huge step forward for science, but that was the case when two men in Sweden tucked into a meal of pasta and fried vegetables recently. The historic ingredient? Cabbage that had had its genome edited with CRISPR-Cas9, making it the first time such a plant had been grown, harvested, cooked and eaten.

CRISPR genome editing is a revolutionary, relatively easy technique that allows scientists to make changes to the DNA of a living organism. Using it to remove certain genetic mutations could lead to the prevention of hereditary diseases, and scientists have already tested it with disorders like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, retina degeneration and even HIV. In plants, it could help improve crop resistance to pests or weather conditions, or increase the yield and nutritional value of foods.

The cabbage grown and served for this landmark meal had been edited to remove a protein called PsbS, "a so-called safety valve in photosynthesis." Stefan Jansson, a biology professor at Umea University in Sweden, planted and cultivated the crop in his own veggie patch, before serving it up for Gustaf Klarin, a local radio reporter. Along with the fried CRISPR cabbage, Jansson cooked up tagliatelle pasta, Swiss chard, snowpeas, cheese, onion and bruschetta bread, and apparently the meal was a rousing success.

"To our delight – and to some extent to my surprise – the meal turned out really nice, though," Jansson wrote in his blog, chronicling the event. "Both of us ate with great relish. Gustaf even thought the cabbage was the best tasting vegetable on the plate. And I agreed."

Umea University's Stefan Jansson served the CRISPR cabbage along with pasta, snowpeas, bruschetta bread and other veggies and herbs
Umea University's Stefan Jansson served the CRISPR cabbage along with pasta, snowpeas, bruschetta bread and other veggies and herbs

Making the meal particularly significant was the fact that this humble cabbage marked the first time in Europe that a gene-edited plant was permitted to be cultivated outside a lab. The regulations around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products have been tricky to navigate, and plants that fall within the definition of a GMO effectively can't be grown in the field in Europe.

To overcome this, the team at Umea University appealed to the Swedish Board of Agriculture to allow its particular strain of cabbage to fall outside the definition of a GMO. And it worked: since the mutation that causes a lack of the PsbS protein is naturally occurring in some cases, simply intervening to deliberately switch it off is acceptable, as long as no foreign DNA is introduced.

If it sounds strange that an openly-edited organism can be classed as not a GMO, that's because it is. The researchers point out that their case highlights a flaw in the definition and regulations, and hope that it may lead authorities to loosen up. Jansson's meal may end up being the entree for a main course of sustainable GMO foods.

Source: Umea University

13 comments
MarkS
What ignorant dangerous arrogance to believe that they (the scientists and the SBoA) know what the long term implications are, and to declare it safe. Off course, now that it has been accepted by the SBoA as "non GMO", the door will be flung open to other so called "non-GMO" foods, which are just re-branded GMO foods. It is setting a very dangerous precedent. These so called scientists use science as a religion when it suits them. As with most scientists evidence must be empirically verified, yet when it suits the investors/scientists (in many cases the same people) empirical evidence is spun to suit the desired outcome. Empirical evidence for this sort of experiment is not possible! The combinations of factors are to numerous and not even the combined computing power of all of the computers and humans in the world today can even come close to accurately map out every possible outcome. For any scientist to profess otherwise will be a blatant lie. This is not the first time this sort of greed has trumped common sense; cigarettes, lead in gasoline/petrol, Thalidomide, and many more similar events in history are bloody blotches where 'other humans' are being sacrificed for greed and the perpetrators walk away with no accountability, except with ballooning bank accounts. For the record, I am not against genetic research inside controlled environments, i.e. secure labs. But the scientists/investors want it out of the labs before the shit hits the fan. They want to ensure their own wealth so when the shit eventually hits the fan it is impossible to empirically prove culpability because "other factors, i.e. environmental or human interference such as genetic modification, pesti/insecticides" could conceivably contribute to the undesirable outcome. In the mean time anyone that protests GMO and genuinely ask for empirical evidence will be branded as lunatics, anti-science, ignorant to the suffering of starving millions, or whatever the pro-GMO spin doctors can contrive.
JamesParenteau
MarkS is right on mark with his comment. Although it is a shame that we need to treat GMO in this manner, because of corporate exploitation of growers worldwide, or the poisoning of our food, introduction of poisons in our food and other ingredients which likely cause Bee die-out or some forms of ailments in humans while consumed. There is no science when people go out and cook up whatever they desire and contaminate our biosphere with alien made biologic organisms. We as humans have the capacity for better practices when applying to better health.
michael_dowling
I don't understand what removing the PsBS protein does to the cabbage plant.
piperTom
It's good to see that, even in Europe, the door is opening to technical advances in biology. Far too long, the so-called Precautionary Principle has stifled innovation. The CRISPR technique has just recently made it far easier and cheaper to make accurate changes to genes. The non-GMO fanatics have to realize that CRISPR is not the last advance in bio-engineering, which will resemble electronic engineering in this respect: everything will continue to get cheaper, easier, and faster -- forever! So, there are two basic futures for bio-engineering. One where serious scientist do it in the open, with public review, feedback, and safeguards, or TWO, where talented amateurs do it in their kitchens. Regulators and their cheerleaders must face these two choices. "In the open" is by far the better choice.
Dan Parker
So, what did removing the PsbS protein do to this particular cabbage? Did it taste better? Will it last longer in the fridge? Did the cabbage grow faster or have more nutrients than a regular cabbage? What was the purpose of this experiment other than being the first to do it? This article left a lot of questions unanswered.
McDesign
MarkS - you aren't actually thinking; you're just parroting what you've heard, and conflating it with other things you've heard. That's the kind of thinking (sic) that gives us the candidates we have. C'mon - maybe you're right, but think for yourself.
KimHunter
"Gene silencing" GMO is the same technology as CRISPR genome editing, no? Studies showed gene silencing was found to be toxic long ago. http://kimhunter.ca/gmo/#gene_silencing
Kyle McHattie
This is how you get mutant zombies...do you want mutant zombies!?
Noel K Frothingham
The height of 'dangerous arrogance' is speaking as an authority on a particular subject when they are not while condemning all who do not share the same opinion. I am quite capable of doing my own research and drawing my own conclusions as are others who read this magazine/website. We read New Atlas (still can't quite fathom the name change), using it as a point of origin from which to ask intelligent - and relevant - questions. When I see the need to gather more information to either verify or eviscerate my personal point of view, I seek answers from people whose background I can verify and trust. They generally resist being drawn into 'black hole' arguments - whatever enters can not escape, including the truth. In other words, MarkS, when I want your opinion, I'll ask for it.
PeterMooyman
I agree with MarkS. If this is allowed, it sets a dangerous precedent, knowing that GMO foods can result in complete sterility within 3 generations. When we screw with Nature, it will bite back, and when it does, it will be too late.