GLP Podcast: Animal gene editing moves ahead in Russia; Biotech eliminates flavorless produce; Edible cholera vaccine coming soon?

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Russia wants to produce allergen-free milk using animal gene editing. How much progress have they made? If you’re bored with flavorless fruits and vegetables, genetic engineering might have solved your problem. A rice-based cholera vaccine could save a lot of lives and lead the way to more edible immunizations against deadly diseases.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP contributor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

After years of watching other nations accrue the benefits of genetic engineering, Russia appears to have warmed to the technology. The country has already invested more than $1 billion in crop gene editing, and now Moscow State University scientists are trying to breed gene-edited cows that produce allergen-free milk. Petr Sergiev, a member of the Moscow State research team, summed up the project’s potential:
I think this work will lay the methodological foundation for gene editing in cattle in Russia, which will lead to more complex challenges. For instance, we can make cows produce certain proteins they normally don’t for biotechnological purposes.
For many years, plant breeders focused on developing fruits and vegetables with longer shelf lives that were less likely to bruise, the traits grocery stores demanded in the produce they carried. But breeding for these qualities carried a trade off: flavor fell by the wayside, so finding a tasty tomato, for example, is much more difficult than it may seem. With the advent of gene editing, which allows scientists to make specific changes to a crop’s genome, more flavorful fruits and vegetables may start to show up in your produce section in the coming years.
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Vaccines are undoubtedly one of the most important developments in the history of public health. While they routinely prevent the spread of infectious disease, transporting temperature-sensitive vaccines to parts of the world where they can do the most good can be a logistical nightmare. Edible vaccines, engineered into popular foods like rice or tomatoes, offer a potential way around the technical challenges of getting these badly needed drugs where they need to go.

Showing the potential of this technology, researchers from the University of Tokyo and Chiba University have developed a cholera vaccine that can be distributed in genetically engineered rice:

When the plants are mature, the rice is harvested and ground into a fine powder, then sealed in aluminum packets for storage. When people are ready to be vaccinated, the powder is mixed with about 90 milliliters (1/3 U.S. cup) of liquid and then drunk.

A Phase 1 clinical trial involving 30 participants found no evidence of negative side effects from the vaccine. Additional studies will be done to confirm the results of the trial and determine if the vaccine is effective against cholera.

Recommended Twitter follows: @steak_umm and @ACSHorg

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the director of bio-sciences at the American Council on Science and Health. Follow ACSH on Twitter @ACSHorg

Related article:  Newly passed biosafety bill in Uganda aims to ensure 'safe development' of GMO crops
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