Hippies despise it, politicians are wary of supporting it and even scientists are uncertain about the consequences of genetic engineering. The ability to produce fluorescent pigs and bizarre animal crossbreeds (look up the ‘Lemurat’ or ‘Dolion’ if you want a laugh) was once a matter of science fiction yet now, ethics aside, we have the ability to engineer just about anything. Here are a few of the more practical products we might see stocking our shelves in the near future…
1. Antifreeze Fish
Don’t worry, no one is suggesting you spray tuna on your windscreen. Modified salmon and trout, unlike their unmodified counterparts which die below temperatures of -0.7 degrees, can withstand the arctic temperatures of Northern fish farms. This is all thanks to the anti-freeze protein which can be taken from the blood plasma of the winter flounder and injected into rainbow trout and salmon.
It turns out that cows aren’t the only environmentally-damaging livestock. Phosphorus, found in high concentrations in pig manure, is one of the main causes of excess algal growth in rivers and ponds. By engineering pigs so that they produce the enzyme phytase in their salivary glands, scientists have enabled the breakdown of phytic acid (a form of phosphorus) in the pigs’ stomachs into phosphate, reducing the release of phosphorus into the environment.
3. Antioxidant tomatoes
Not only do they look pretty but these purple tomatoes, already under large-scale production, also have fantastic nutritional benefits. Using the gene from the snapdragon plant, scientists have engineered the tomato so that it produces anthocyanin, a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant found in cranberries and blueberries. With 1200 litres of tomato juice already on its way to Canada, there’s every chance that within a few years red tomato ketchup could be a thing of the past.
4. Oily Veg
In an attempt to reduce demand for wild fish populations, researchers at Rothemsted have been genetically modifying plants to produce omega-3 fatty acids which are usually found in oily fish such as tuna, mackerel and sardines and can protect against heart disease. If further field trials are successful, hopefully we’ll be able to get our daily dose of omega-3 without breaking the student budget.
5. Banana Vaccines
‘Edible vaccines half price for a limited time only’. No, this isn’t another health fad or supermarket scam; scientists have been engineering bananas, potatoes, lettuce, carrots and even tobacco to produce the HBV vaccine which, if developed, could lead to more successful and widespread prevention of the disease.
6. Immune-boosting Eggs
Although not technically intended for human consumption, chicken eggs engineered to contain large amounts of life-saving protein might play a key part in cancer treatment in years to come. Through creating 500 modified birds, researchers at The Roslin Institute hoped to produce proteins both cheaply and in bulk in order to reduce the cost of future medical treatments.