Franken-food? WSU Gene-Edited Sausage Approved by FDA for Humans
WSU Gene-Edited Livestock Approved by the FDA
Genetically altered and FDA-approved livestock for human food is here, for better or for worse.
Gene-Editing and Agriculture in History
Just reading the title is a little shocking, even though a form of gene editing has been practiced in agriculture since the 1990s. Genetically-edited plants were planted in Canada and the US in limited amounts to test the quality and health of the newly created strains. Actually, gene editing started much earlier in human history, as soon as agriculturists started selective breeding of plants with desired traits. Scientifically gene-edited crops are used all over the world and now livestock is next.
GMO: What it Means
You may have seen the term GMO used with food but never known what it means. GMO is an acronym for genetically modified organisms or any plant, animal, or microorganism that has altered DNA that does not occur with natural breeding. Most of the crops used to make cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or granulated sugar in the US are all GMO. Now because of the new National Bioengineered Food Production Standard, all foods that are GMO need to have a "bioengineered" brand on the label.
FDA Approves WSU Gene-Edited Livestock
Washington State University is the first to get approval from the FDA to use gene-edited or GMO pigs in testing for human consumption. 5 of the 2-year-old pigs were processed (butchered) at the WSU Meat Lab and then inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The testing was approved for only those 5 pigs to test the quality and dangers of GMO livestock and the possibility of using the process widely in agriculture. Some of the meat from the study was turned into sausage and to be served by WSU catering services at events to raise money for student members of the WSU Meat Judging team.
Is GMO Gene Editing Like Jurassic Park?
Most people hear the phrase gene editing and they think of Jurassic Park and animals that are created in a test tube. In reality, GMO technology is much different and much more like selective breeding habits humans have been practicing since the beginning of agriculture. Selective breeding is when certain plants or animals are bred together to create stronger and more desirable traits. Later scientists realized they could alter the DNA of plants by introducing chemicals or radiation with a process called Induced Mutation. Over 2,500 different varieties of rice, wheat, and many fruits were all created using Induced Mutation techniques according to Nature.com.
How Does WSU Create GMO Pigs?
The method to create the GMO pigs was developed by Jon Oatley, a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He uses a gene editing tool that he calls CRISPR to edit the genetic code and traits of livestock. The process is really a high-tech form of selective breeding. The researchers first gene-edit male animals to be sterile by removing a gene titled NANOS2 that is important for male fertility. Those pigs are then injected with stem cells from another male pig that creates sperm cells from the donor pig. The injected pigs all make sperm carry the genetics of the donor pig stem cells with the desired traits for all the offspring. The pigs that are processed for food are the offspring of the DNA-altered pigs, not the altered pigs themselves.
Gene Editing VS Transgenic Work: What is the Difference?
This process is much different than the "transgenic" work of other companies that have already been approved by the FDA for study. Transgenic gene editing involves inserting DNA from an outside species into the genome of an organism to change its characteristics. WSU's new technique called "gene editing" only uses the DNA found in that species and gets outcomes that could come naturally eventually through regular breeding.
WSU CRISPR Sausage
The GMO pigs were processed into a sausage that the University named after the genetic tool used to make the pigs, CRISPR. The meat has not yet been studied or approved by the FDA for widespread approval into the food chain but that is the final goal of the study. Jon Oatley says "The original intent in making these animals was to try to improve the way that we feed people" and looks to get a fully approved strain of pigs. The process sounds scary but understanding the process helps with the public fear of "cloned" or "unnatural" animals being used for food. Learn more about the process by reading the complete WSU press release.