Genetically-modified crops are here to stay, as technological developments and constant debates regarding their impact on the world continue to make news headlines.
Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have grown tomatoes which could potentially contribute to the fight against cancer. They contain significant amounts of resveratrol and genistein, compounds which have been linked to lower cholesterol and breast cancer prevention respectively. What are the implications of consuming ‘industrial quantities’ of disease-fighting compounds? How might this have an effect on the plants themselves, or those who eat them? Will we have anti-cancer ketchup? Extra-strength heart protection salsa? How might other crops be modified in similar ways, and what would be effect of these on supermarket sales?
At the same time, others are working on minimising the risks associated with genetic modification. Jacob Lloyd is a high school senior from Escondido, California who is investigating new methods of inserting DNA into chloroplasts which are not found in pollen. The rationale for this being that pollen from GM crops can spread transgenes (foreign genes) to other species resulting in consequences such as herbicide-resistant super-weeds. It is hoped that this endeavour will introduce effective safeguards that prevent such scenarios.
This could be good news for the Collective of Mexican Chefs, a group of 82 who are highly concerned that lifting the ban on transgenic corn in Mexico will lead to the contamination of landrace maize via cross-pollination. It’s a legitimate issue: what happens to the genetic makeup of varieties that have been protected for centuries if they become affected by the newcomers? How will this impact the farmers that specialise in growing these crops? What about tortilla-makers? Or the cultural rituals that have been built around a celebration of native foods?
CRISPR is a genetic editing enzyme that could provide some answers. A recently-published study revealed that Korean researchers have modified it to remove specific genes without inserting additional ones. It sounds promising, and the changes are so minimal that CRISPR crops might not even be classified as genetically-modified ones. However, given the present success rate of 46% it will be awhile before the technique can be implemented on a larger-scale. How might scientific breakthroughs like this change the regulatory definition of genetically-modified crops? What are the implications on public perception of GM foods and their risks or benefits?
It's a widely-debated issue with a lot at stake, and Mariah Wright's beautifully-illustrated project Crop Constructs gives us a glimpse into what the future of GM crops might look like. Scenarios featuring plants such as carnivorous wheat and ready-packed strawberries tap into current discourses around consumption, ownership, biodiversity and sustainability amongst others.
On a more playful note, Enrico Becker and Matt Harris' editorial shoot for the December 2015 issue of Ligature Journal makes reference to a future of GM fruit through the use of barcodes and non-representational colours. Pink bananas, a pale blue pineapple and reflective mangoes all make an appearance in a simple yet somewhat disconcerting manner.