By Vernieda V.
Despite the consumer push for more organic, all-natural ingredients, there remains a place for genetically-modified products in the food and beverage industry. In February, the FDA approved the commercial planting of a non-browning apple and bruise-resistant potato. Unlike other genetically-altered crops, the apple and potato were engineered to benefit consumers. Apples typically brown after slicing, so ones that can retain their fresh color offer a boon to the food service industry. The same goes for the non-bruising potato, which will minimize unattractive black spots.
The approvals take a new direction for GMO foods. Prior to this, most crops were genetically altered for increased resistance against insects or disease, which benefit farmers. But with these recent FDA approvals, more GMO products tailored for consumers are sure to follow. Other foods currently pending approval include a cancer-fighting pineapple and a tomato that may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
While public concern over genetically-modified food persists, increased consumer convenience and health benefits may alleviate these worries. Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the company responsible for creating the non-browning apple, has already received many requests to buy the fruit tree, so even though GMO foods receive criticism, they gain support as well.
For the food and beverage industry, pursuing product development where consumer benefits are prioritized appears to be the way to go. The use of digital tools like electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) can aid the innovation.
When we think of genetic technology, we imagine splicing genes from at least two different organisms. But in the case of genetically modified foods like the non-browning apple, researchers simply turned off a gene within the existing DNA. What gene did they alter? The one responsible for causing apples to brown when they are injured.
This turning off and on of genes offers many advantages. Does the potato contain a suspected carcinogen for which effects are magnified when fried? Simply deactivate the gene responsible. What about increasing the amount of heart-healthy chemical present in a tomato? Boost the relevant gene’s expression.
With an ELN, food and beverage firms can easily keep track of this gene manipulation and its effects. Data is stored in a centralized location, making it available to all researchers working on the project. ELNs also allow multiple formats, letting users annotate results with images, notes and charts. Perhaps one of the most helpful features, information can be indexed and, in turn, searchable.
Even though the FDA approved commercial planting of the non-bruising apple two months ago, it likely won’t hit supermarket shelves until 2017 at the earliest. The trees still need to be planted and given time to bear its fruit crop. From personal experience, I can attest that it takes a couple years before the fruit grown on a tree is palatable.
With this kind of lead time from regulatory approval to sale, it’s imperative that food and beverage labs streamline their processes to remain competitive. ELNs let users clone templates that are utilized multiple times over the course of a project. Laboratory instruments can be interfaced to download data directly into electronic lab notebooks. This means experiments can be run overnight and the results made available to researchers in the morning when they arrive at work. If there are multiple collaborators on a project, the ELN can alert other users when you’re done with a task and they can begin theirs.
Even though the FDA says foods like the non-browning apple and non-bruising potato are safe, the food and beverage industry still needs to contend with public concern. There are currently no guidelines for labeling GMO foods on the federal level, although many states do have regulations in place.
With this kind of scrutiny, it’s necessary to keep detailed records of the developmental process. Much of the anxiety over GMO foods stems from a lack of understanding the technology involved. There’s a world of difference between splicing genes from two different organisms versus simply switching off and on already present DNA. With features like digital signatures, timestamps and records of entry alterations, ELNs offer increased transparency.
Although the public may seem hesitant over genetically-modified food, creating products that promote convenience and health benefits might be the key to winning their support. A non-bruising potato may not seem like a big deal to some people, but any cook will tell you how inconvenient it can be to soak sliced potatoes in water to prevent them from browning. And who wouldn’t want to eliminate a potential carcinogen from French fries? With the support of ELNs, surely the food and beverage industry can find a way.
Are you interested in learning how ELNs can improve your laboratory’s data management, efficiency and regulatory compliance? Visit our website today to learn more about the BIOVIA Notebook.