18 June 2022 / According to recent UK and South Korean publications, new genetic engineering techniques (New GE) have been used to produce tomatoes with a higher concentration of Vitamin D. The researchers used CRISPR/Cas technology to ‘knock-out’ gene functions which are important for the plants’ reaction to stress conditions. The tomatoes have a higher concentration of vitamin D3, but at the same time, they may be, e.g. more susceptible to plant pests.
In addition, other functions in the tomatoes may be disturbed or plant composition unintentionally changed. To investigate the risks and potential benefits, the UK has announced it plans to begin outdoor field trials. The development is already being hailed as huge success by the scientists involved in creating the New GE fruits.
However, questions remain as to whether the New GE tomatoes will simply cause new problems rather than delivering the expected benefits. There are environmental risks such as susceptibility to stressors or disturbed interactions with pollinators and soil organisms. Other questions concern food safety, which may be impacted by unintended changes in plant composition. Finally, it has to be investigated whether any of the expected benefits will actually materialize, as the content of vitamin D in the tomatoes can be very different, depending on the specific variety and environmental conditions. Therefore, it seems almost impossible to determine exact dosages as, e.g. in tablets.
There are more open questions around of other CRISPR tomatoes. These were developed in Japan and were supposed to lower blood pressure. Even if both of these New GE tomatoes were to be considered safe, the consequences of combining the different CRISPR-tomatoes in diets are unknown.
Testbiotech is demanding rigorous examination of the risks of these and similar products before they are introduced onto the markets, including taking potential interactions into account. In addition to tomatoes, other foods such as, mushrooms, lettuce, potatoes, camelina, soybeans, wheat, rice and maize will soon be engineered with the help of New GE. Industry is claiming that most of these plants could be placed on the markets without detailed risk assessment or labelling. However Testbiotech is warning that uncontrolled releases may destabilize the ecosystems, promote extinction of species and endanger the health of the consumers.
Christoph Then, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel + 49 (0) 151 54638040