First Genetically Modified Strawberries to Hit Stores Soon

In 2021, J.R. Simplot, a potato company, announced its collaboration with Plant Sciences, Inc. from California on the creation of gene-edited strawberries.

Simplot is licensed for gene editing and the CRISPR technology to make these strawberries. Unlike other ways of GMO manipulation, gene editing doesn’t involve genes from other species.

It only switches off some genes in the plant. For example, in potatoes, CRISPR was used to turn off the gene which made potatoes brown when exposed to oxygen.

Selective Breeding Technology: Fully Legal?

As this work doesn’t involve other species’ genes, it can be interpreted as a technique of selective breeding which is entirely legal. In theory, turning off the potato-browning gene may be done via crossbreeding, but it would require a long time and is considered inefficient. 

The first GMO strawberry is a collaboration between Plant Sciences and Simplot. The aim is to optimize strawberry yield and resistance to waste.

In a press release, the company explained that the high waste in strawberry production can be reduced via CRISPR editing because it prolongs the fruit’s short life and potentially lowers the need for water and pesticide use.

When it comes to crossbreeding, CRISPR editing may help reduce the fruit’s sensitivity to drought or pests (at least theoretically).

Excessive Waste Associated with Traditional Strawberries

In 2020, US growers produced $2.2 billion in strawberries, mostly in California, according to the US Department of Agriculture. However, consumers discarded around 35% of the crops because of spoilage.

According to officials of Simplot and Plant Sciences, GMO strawberries may play a huge role in reducing waste and ensuring strawberries are available to consumers throughout the year.

GMOs: An Ethical Problem?

No evidence has shown that GMOs are unsafe to eat, but changing the genetic code of food is an ethical problem for many. The US Environmental Protection Agency and US Food and Administration approved a gene-modifying technique for the Simplot potatoes.

Today, more than 1.1 billion pounds of these potatoes are sold in around 40 states, 4,000 supermarkets, and 9,000 restaurants.

Steve Nelson, the president and chief executive officer of Plant Sciences Inc., noted that the company has made five different breeding strawberry populations in the last 35 years. These types perform optimally in various growing areas and climate types.

Nelson explains that they have complex genomes that ensure a long and complex breeding cycle. The partnership with Simplot, as Nelson claims, may better the horticultural performance of strawberries and optimize their resistance and tolerance. 

Simplot is a multinational agribusiness company with headquarters in Boise, Idaho. In 2018, they got licensed for gene editing in agreement with Corteva Agriscience, the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University, developers of the gene-editing tech known as CRISPR-Cas9. 

This was the first agricultural company to get such a license. 

This tech speeds up the breeding process to get a desirable trait and saves the years otherwise necessary to develop these varieties traditionally. These strawberries are as safe as the traditionally developed varieties.