I rarely buy fruit. I prefer to get that same nutrition through things like fresh smoothies and juices.
That’s not because I think drinks are better. It’s because, personally, I’m tired of throwing away fruit that’s spoiled a couple days after buying it.
There’s nothing worse than opening your refrigerator and seeing food that’s gone bad. But for a lot of people who are frequently busy, there’s not enough time to eat a whole melon or boxes of fruit.
The ideal situation here would be if there was some way that fruit could last longer, but without spraying it with a chemical that could hurt you.
And that’s exactly what’s happening now with CRISPR technology, or gene editing.
Creating the Mushroom of Tomorrow
Before you think of the horror stories you’ve heard about genetically modified food, also known as GMOs, realize that this is not the same thing.
With gene editing, an actual gene that makes a type of food spoil faster can be specifically removed.
For example, scientists at Penn State were able to “delete” a gene from a type of mushroom so that it didn’t brown. The edit has no other effects on the mushroom, it just won’t turn brown and doesn’t spoil as fast.
Similar procedures have been done on apples and potatoes as well. This is much different from GMOs, which have things added to the food to try and enhance it.
One way to think of it is like improving an immune system. By removing the code that makes these crops vulnerable to things like pests and disease, it makes them heartier. It also helps with reducing the damage that they take while being loaded into trucks and driven to stores and markets to be sold.
A lot of fruit that you see in the grocery store is bruised. But if the gene that’s responsible for the bruising is taken out, that fruit is going to be a lot more appealing and better-tasting.
With apples, potatoes and mushrooms, it’s been proven that this is possible without removing a single good quality that you’d otherwise get from eating it.
Gene Editing Has Enormous Benefits
Of course, performing gene editing on humans and animals is understandably controversial. But with plants, we’ve already seen enormous benefits.
And this isn’t some new technology either. In fact, older versions of this same idea have been around for centuries.
The best example is when farmers use crossbreeding to alter plants’ DNA. However, this method leaves a lot of room for error. The crops are still susceptible to animals and weather and sometimes the crossbreeding techniques themselves don’t work as planned.
But CRISPR technology gives farmers a much easier and faster way of getting the same outcome of crossbreeding, with a high amount of precision.
And this new technology saw a huge victory on March 28, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave permission for certain foods that had been “edited” to be sold to the public.
Gene editing could save years and millions of dollars’ worth of time and production costs for farmers. That, in turn, would make food less expensive since not as much money goes into growing it.
There’s also now the potential for an entire new industry to develop this technology to improve crops and nutrition all over the world.
We’ve already seen several cases where this technology can be extremely helpful. One of these projects is also done by Penn State. It has another ongoing project with the goal of getting rid of phorid fly infestations in mushrooms.
This problem has gotten particularly bad in Pennsylvania in the past five years. The reason for that is exactly where gene editing comes in handy: The insecticide that was being used to prevent it was banned for its toxicity.
So, one way this technology will be helpful is by serving as an alternative to putting harmful chemicals on our food.
And even though gene editing is such a complex process, the simplicity of some of it is surprising. For example, a company called Cibus was able to edit one single letter in the genetic code of canola to make a version of it that was resistant to herbicides.
This is another approach taken to fight off the poisons that are used to protect our food. If the crops are resistant to it, it will wipe out a lot of the sickness that comes with that process.
It’s also a little-known fact that the cacao tree is extremely susceptible to pests and different types of fungi. Within the next two to three years, demand for cocoa is expected to outpace supply by over 1 million tons.
That’s a huge problem.
But right now, several teams are attempting to find the gene that makes the tree so vulnerable and take it out. That won’t just save chocolate; the cacao tree is also used to produce animal feed, potash and even soil.
It will also help countries that rely on cocoa production for their economies. For example, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia have been hurt by these epidemics, which can ruin entire fields of cacao trees at a time.
A Mountain of Waste
If we’re able to edit the genes of plants all over the world, it could drastically reduce the amount of starvation that occurs.
About 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted each year. To put that in perspective, we waste a Mount Everest-sized amount of food every year.
A lot of that is because food either gets attacked by things like diseases or pests on a farm, or it goes bad before we can eat it. Those are problems that can be easily solved by gene editing, while keeping the overall intended nutrition in the food.
Most of the companies that are working with this technology are small startups or university research groups. As a result, there aren’t a lot of investment opportunities in this field yet.
But as this technology inevitably expands, I believe that publicly traded companies will begin to buy up smaller startup companies that specialize in it. And of course, some of these small companies will go public themselves.
Editor, Rapid Profit Trader
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