The Cellular Kitchen: science and sustainable food

Over the last two decades technology has advanced at a brisk pace. But tech is not the only place of rapid growth and development. Together, science and tech have a significant role in changing conversations around food and sustainability.

We talked earlier about what it means to be sustainable. Aside from having recycling bins and a garden compost, sustainability for us includes looking for ways to mindfully grow the food supply while reducing food waste. Innovating. This is where science comes in.

As an orchardist and bioresource engineer, Neal’s natural place to start was with apples. Arctic® apples answered a question few in fresh produce were asking: how to reduce the risk for food to become waste. We met the problem with science.

Nonbrowing: something called RNAi

If you’ve read our previous posts on what inspired Arctic® apples or why we took a biotech approach, you know our focus is on realizing the benefits of biotech over conventional breeding. Rather than create a new apple, we chose familiar varieties like Golden or Granny and removed something that contributes to those delicious apples becoming wasted food. We did this through something called RNAi, or RNA interference.

Before your eyes glaze over and think ‘here comes the confusing science part’, we promise to keep it light. You’ve heard about DNA? Well, RNA is also a major component essential for all forms of life. DNA is read to make RNA, which is read to make protein and then it goes on to do all the things we need to have happen on a cellular level – in humans or plants – for all life to be. RNAi quite literally means interfering with RNA.

In the video below it’s explained like this: if cells are a kitchen in a busy restaurant, then DNA is a cookbook and RNA is the recipe. Arctic® apples would be a custom order (restaurants call this a modifier) asking the chef to do something different with a recipe that already exists – kind of like having your salad dressing on the side. It’s more technical than this, but we promised to keep it light.

CRISPR: what is gene-editing?

In the genetically modified food world is a variety of gene interventions. Science helps provide farmers with crops that can withstand drought, fight disease, or reduce the need for pesticides. When these foods come to market they’re identified as modified, often carrying an undeserved stigma. Along the intervention spectrum is also gene editing.

With a process called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats), scientists can ‘edit’ DNA. The benefits to agriculture are substantial, as identified with the CRISPR mushrooms.

According to USDA regulations, most foods developed with CRISPR fall outside of the agency’s GMO category as the genes were ‘edited’ and not ‘modified’. The process is less time and resource consuming, allowing for the possibility of CRISPR foods at markets in a few years.

Food + Science = new conversations

As we continue on the path where food and science intersect it’s important to have meaningful dialogue on shaping our future. Back in 1996, Neal and Louisa looked at their responsibility to building a sustainable food future. Growing a nonbrowning apple might seem like a little thing, but it was their big step.

Food science is becoming part of mainstream digital life. Take this Gizmodo article on CRISPR. It’s a sign that we’re allowing for space to have the conversations we need to go mindfully – and sustainably – into a bright future.

It’s all food for thought, in the new cellular kitchen.

About Jeannette LeBlanc

Jeannette LeBlanc is the Communications Specialist for Okanagan Specialty Fruits, and lives in the sunny Okanagan Valley. She has a keen interest in sustainable food systems and the people working on responsible ways to help feed the planet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *