Synbio for vit A enriched bread
2.Sliced Bread Just Got Better
NOTE: Synbio stands for synthetic biology, an extreme form of genetic engineering.
1.Synbio for vit A enriched bread
COMMENT by Dr Michael Antoniou
Head: Gene Expression and Therapy Group
King's College London School of Medicine Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics
Another classic case of using GM to cover up a problem rather than address its cause. Even the developers of this VitaYeast [see below: Sliced Bread Just Got Better] admit that the cause of the problem is that people cannot afford the fresh fruit and veg they need not that there isn't any there to be had! So the problem is a social injustice that needs to be addressed on its own level rather than trying to use a genetics fix that will at best cover up the problem and at worst detract attention from it. In either case this approach simply results in perpetuation of the problem rather than solving it at its root cause.
And on a technical note. Many years ago attempts to genetically engineer a better fermenting brewer's yeast also resulted in the side effect of increasing its content many fold of the DNA mutagen methylglyoxyl, a potential carcinogen (1).
Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge this yeast never got to market. What this illustrates is that once you start messing around with core biochemical pathways in even, or perhaps especially, in a simple organism such as yeast, you run a highly significant risk of producing major changes in its makeup. So these no doubt well-meaning aspiring young genetic engineers' VitaYeast bread may look and smell like normal but what is lurking inside? For sure VitaYeast will not have the same biochemical composition as its non-GM parent, apart from the fact it is producing beta-carotene. Baking may kill the yeast but it will not decompose all of its chemical components, otherwise there would be no point to this exercise! Although VitaYeast may only consist of 1% of the final bread if it comes carrying a novel carcinogen or other toxin chronic consumption of these even at low levels can have major long term health consequences.
So why don't we just be fair and make the food already in plentiful supply available to people?
1. Inose T and Kousaku M (1995) Enhanced accumulation of toxic compounds in yeast cells having high glycolytic activity: a case study on the safety of genetically engineered yeast.
International Journal Food Science Technology 30: 141-146.
2.Sliced Bread Just Got Better
Johns Hopkins University, OCTOBER 25 2011
Growing up in Bombay, India, Arjun Khakhar witnessed malnutrition devastate his community. With a team of fellow Johns Hopkins University undergraduates, Khakhar hopes to save lives by addressing this global issue using synthetic biology.
"The major problem in developing countries right now is not that people are hungry and starving because they don't have enough food," said Khakhar, a junior biomedical engineering major, in the Whiting School of Engineering. "What people don't have now is the food that they need to survive. Vital nutrients like vitamins are just missing from their diets because they can't afford fruits and vegetables."
To address this enormous challenge, the team started small. Really small. The students began with yeast, a single-cell microbe, that if coaxed into producing beta carotene, could be baked into bread rich in vitamin A. They call the product VitaYeast.
The team was brought together to compete in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which challenges students to use synthetic biology to manipulate DNA into carrying out new tasks. The students conduct their research in the lab of the School of Medicine's Jef Boeke, a leading yeast expert who is a professor of molecular biology and genetics, and worked with 10 faculty advisors from engineering and arts and sciences.
"One of the great things about iGEM teams, which are mostly made up of undergraduates, is that those students, frankly, will not believe that something is impossible," Boeke said. "If you tell them that something is impossible, they will go off and do it. I find that to be very exciting."
After successfully altering the yeast and producing their enhanced dough, the students purchased a small bread machine to test the results. Research shows that people reject genetically engineered foods that didn't look, smell or taste like something familiar, so the ultimate test is to produce a recognizable loaf of bread using VitaYeast.
The initial results are promising. While the bread cannot be consumed, because genetically modified food must undergo testing by federal regulators, the appearance, texture and smell replicate that of bread made with packaged yeast.
"VitaYeast is a tiny componentit gets killed in the bread," said Noah Young, a senior biomedical engineering major. "We're not genetically modifying the wheat. We're not genetically modifying the flour or the water. We're genetically modifying something like 1 percent of the bread recipe. When you bake VitaYeast bread and you look at it, it looks like normal bread."
But the implications are profoundthe bread has the potential to help avert health problems that occur when diets lack essential vitamins and other nutrients. The World Health Organization has described vitamin A deficiency as the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.
Regardless of how the project performs at the iGEM competition finals in November, members of the team say they will continue to tout their enhanced bread as a simple way to help hundreds of thousands of people suffering from malnutrition around the world. Such aspirations may seem bold for a group of students yet to pick up a diploma. But Khakhar doesn't think so.
"How do I get the idea in my mind that I want to change the world?" he said. "I would ask, How can you not have the idea that you want to change the world?"