Gene editing has ‘unlimited potential’ to reduce malnutrition, says global food expert

gThe ene edition is a tool with unlimited potential to help reduce malnutrition around the world, said Dr Lawrence Haddad, executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).

The world needs technology because billions of people struggle to access the nutritious meals needed to stay healthy, Haddad said.

The head of GAIN, a Swiss-based foundation launched by the United Nations in 2002 to reduce malnutrition around the world, made his remarks during an independent dialogue hosted by the Alliance for Science at the Summit of Food Systems. Haddad is also chairing the upcoming Action Track 1 Summit, which is responsible for ensuring access to safe and nutritious food.

“The potentials seem limitless in terms of what can be done with gene editing and CRISPR… it will take courageous and daring activist governments to make this a reality,” Haddad said.

The dialogue was one of thousands held across the world ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit on September 23, which will discuss the future of the world’s food systems. The meeting was deemed necessary as the world is currently not on track to achieve Zero Hunger and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, unless drastic action is taken. . Participants will deliberate and launch bold new actions to help achieve progress on the 17 SDGs, each of which rests to some extent on achieving zero hunger.

Haddad noted that 3 billion people around the world cannot afford a healthy diet and 1.5 billion cannot afford a low-nutrient diet, according to the United Nations State of Food Insecurity Report.

GAIN data shows that one in three people suffer from some type of malnutrition. It is estimated that 821 million people do not have access to enough calories to avoid chronic hunger. About 2 billion people around the world do not get enough vitamins and minerals to support healthy growth. It is estimated that one in five deaths worldwide is linked to a poor diet. Each year, about 11 percent of the gross domestic product in Africa and Asia is lost due to malnutrition.

Dr Cecilia Acuin, associate professor at the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food, University of the Philippines Los Baños, told the dialogue that many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to meet the challenge of malnutrition. . Although the Philippines uses conventional methods of plant breeding, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other tools to enrich food crops with improved nutrients, gene editing will help speed up these processes, she said. declared.

“IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) is trying to find out what nutritional benefits can be derived from the varieties of rice available in the gene bank. If we wait for conventional breeding to propagate these traits in rice germplasm, it will take hundreds of years. But if we can use gene editing technologies, it can reach populations and consumers much faster, ”she explained.

Patience Koku, CEO of Replenish Farms in Nigeria, said the next summit should be ready to recognize gene editing technology as a tool that can help improve agriculture.

“I think the Food Systems Summit is an opportunity for all of us to make it clear that gene editing has many benefits for the world and Africa in particular,” she said.

“We say gene editing has the potential to produce crops that can be nitrogen efficient and can increase production. Now I am linking production to nutrition. Because when there is food shortage, there will be malnutrition, ”Koku said.

“For the first time in the history of our country, we were buying cowpea, which is the poor man’s protein, for ridiculous amounts and most people couldn’t afford it. It’s because we had a bad harvest, ”she told the dialogue.

She noted that gene editing can improve production and enrich foods with additional nutrients. For example, many people only eat sweet potato as a meal. If the sweet potatoes were fortified with protein or additional vitamins, “that will help a lot. I live in a country where I see stunting every day, ”Koku added.

About 151 million children under the age of five are retarded in physical and cognitive development due to malnutrition, according to data from GAIN, and children who are stunted by the age of three have perform worse in school and are more likely to live in poverty as adults. Meanwhile, 45 percent of all deaths of children under three are linked to stunting and wasting induced by malnutrition. Poor nutrition is linked to about 22% of adult deaths.

Ambassador Dr. Miguel J. Garcia-Winder, former Undersecretary of Agriculture in Mexico, observed that gene editing could potentially impact food availability and quality. But he said this would have only a limited impact on efforts to ensure access to healthy food unless other socio-economic issues are addressed.

“Gene editing is just one of the potential tools to solve nutritional security issues,” he said. “But in itself, this is not enough to solve the overall problem of nutrition security… There are social, economic, cultural and environmental issues regarding technology that also need to be addressed. “

Dr Tom Adams, co-founder and CEO of biotech company Pairwise, said in the dialogue that gene editing is an emerging technology that “gives genetics a lot of power to do specific things.” Pairwise is a US-based company that uses gene editing to improve fruits and vegetables so people can eat healthier diets.

“Gene editing takes the randomness out of selection, making rapid advances in plant breeding possible,” he explained. “To make a cherry without a pit, normal reproduction would take over 100 years, but gene editing will take less than five years. Gene editing will provide a wide range of benefits to agriculture and food production, increase nutrient content, and remove seeds and kernels, making it easier for everyone to consume healthy foods.

Other potential benefits of gene editing include improving crops to adapt to changing environments, extending crop shelf life, and adapting varieties to allow year-round production, among others.

Joseph Opoku Gakpo is a member of the Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership in 2016 and contributes to Multimedia Group Limited in Ghana, in collaboration with Joy FM, Joy News TV and MyJoyOnline. He holds an MA in Communication from the University of Ghana and is a member of the Ghana Journalists Association. Find Joseph on Twitter @ josephopoku1990

A version of this article originally appeared on the site Cornell Alliance for Science and has been republished here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly

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