JR Simplot Co. develops genetically modified strawberries


Genetically modified strawberry plants grow in a greenhouse at JR Simplot Company in Boise, Idaho on October 22, 2021. On Thursday, October 28, the company announced an agreement with California-based Plant Sciences Inc. to grow strawberries genetically modified which taste better, stay fresher longer and have a longer growing season. (AP Photo / Keith Ridler)


An Idaho company that has been successful in bringing genetically modified potatoes to market on Thursday announced an agreement to help a California-based plant breeding company grow strawberries that they say will stay fresher longer and have a season of longer growth.

JR Simplot Company and Plant Sciences Inc., two private companies, said they plan to launch the first commercially available genetically modified strawberries within a few years.

U.S. growers produced $ 2.2 billion worth of strawberries in 2020, mostly in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But consumers discarded around 35% of the crop due to spoilage. Officials at Simplot and Plant Sciences said genetically modified strawberries would help reduce waste and make it available to consumers for much of the year.

Strawberries will contain genes from strawberries only, selecting desirable traits that have been cultivated over decades.

“This is the same technology that we are working on with potatoes,” said Doug Cole, director of marketing and biotech affairs at Simplot. “We have the ability to do it with this technology. “

There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are dangerous to eat, but changing the genetic code of food presents an ethical problem for some. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration have approved a prior art of genetic modification on Simplot potatoes. Today, more than 1.1 billion pounds of potatoes are sold in some 40 states and 4,000 supermarkets and 9,000 restaurants.

Cole said the company submitted information to the Agriculture Department which determined that the gene editing used on strawberries mimicked a natural process and did not need regulatory approval before the strawberries were released. on the market. The company also uses this gene editing technique on potatoes.

Steve Nelson, President and CEO of Plant Sciences Inc., said the company over the past 35 years has developed five distinct breeding populations of strawberries that do best in various growing areas and climate types.

“They have complex genomes that contribute to long and complex reproductive cycles,” Nelson said. “You have to look at large populations of seedlings on an annual basis to make progress with traditional plant breeding. ”

Gene editing could speed this up. Nelson said the goal of the partnership with Simplot is to improve the horticultural performance of strawberries, improve tolerance and resistance to pests and diseases.

He said that for growers, who can spend $ 35,000 an acre to plant strawberries and an additional $ 35,000 per acre to harvest them, genetically modified strawberries could reduce the risk of a crop failure.

Simplot, a multinational food and beverage company headquartered in Boise, Idaho, acquired the gene editing license rights in 2018 in an agreement with Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and from Harvard University, developers of a gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9. Simplot was the first agricultural company to receive such a license.

The technology allows scientists to make precise modifications to the genome of living organisms and has many applications to improve the production and quality of plant foods. This has been likened to using a find and replace function when editing a written document.

The gene editing technology is called CRISPR-Cas9, the first part being an acronym for “short, regularly spaced clustered palindromic repeats”. The technology speeds up the traditional process of breeding plants generation after generation to achieve a certain desirability, saving years in developing new varieties as safe as traditionally developed varieties, scientists say.

Craig Richael, director of research and development at Simplot, said the genetic code of the strawberry has been mapped, but it’s not clear what traits are associated with all of the different parts of the code. He said the company is working with parts of the code that are known, growing genetically modified strawberries in a greenhouse in Simplot.

Plant Sciences Inc., headquartered in Watsonville, California, and its affiliates have proprietary rights to over 50 varieties of strawberries and raspberries. The company supplies plants to growers in more than 50 countries.

Simplot and Plant Sciences will earn money by selling the genetically modified strawberry plants to growers, who pay a royalty for the rights to grow and sell the strawberries. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

About Alma Ackerman

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