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The Genetically Edited Food You’ve Likely Been Eating for Decades

If you’ve been following science news, you probably know that CRISPR gene-editing technology has been taking the medical world by storm. Showing alluring potential for treating diseases ranging from cancer to Type 2 diabetes, human trails are already in the works, even though the repercussions of gene editing remain largely unknown. But CRISPR isn’t just being used in the medical world. It’s also being used in the food industry. In fact, gene-edited crops have already been created — and eaten.

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Gene editing technology allows scientists to cut and paste desired or unwanted traits, which can lead to the ideal crop — great-tasting, perfectly ripe and aesthetically pleasing. As new as this technology may seem, genetic editing has been done before — by a company you’ve likely heard of.

More than half a century ago, Campbell Soup Company cultivated a tomato variety with a genetic mutation to ensure each tomato was “perfect” — red, plump, juicy, delicious and easy to remove from the vine. It even has a name, an ode to the fact that there’s no bend in the vine: Jointless.

In the 1960s Campbell Soup Company growers noticed a natural mutation in some plants yielded fruits that separated from the vine at the perfect spot, making them less likely to bruise and puncture and ideal for production on a large scale. Growers then introduced the mutation — known as j2 — into different kinds of tomato varieties. Unexpectedly, the new plants branched and flowered more, but produced less fruit.

With decades of research, scientists have finally figured out what went wrong. The mutation didn’t go as planned because there was another factor that cultivators were unaware of — another gene mutation which j2 interacted with.

So, what’s the deal with genetically edited foods? Are they safe?

Foods produced via gene-editing are not subject to regulation by the USDA or other regulatory agencies, although an advisory board advised that gene-edited foods could not be labeled organic. There is nothing taken out or added to the plant but, for now, it’s a little too soon to say what gene editing may do to food and the environment. But as technology forges ahead, answers are likely on the horizon.

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