On November 14, 2023, USDA/APHIS published a list of genetically engineered crop/trait combinations that it had recently determined to be non-regulated (USDA/APHIS announcement) according to the agency’s narrow regulatory purview under 7 CFR 340. The non-regulated status of these crops/traits will have significant implications for the food we eat because they will likely be able to move more stealthily through the supply chain, especially if they’re used as parental lines to create hybrids.
We’ve been following the development of these crops/traits for some time, many of which have been made possible through the use of CRISPR. Some of these efforts involve the development of novel traits in well-known genetically modified crops, such as corn. Others involve the development of traits in newer, less-publicized crops, such as mustard, banana, coffee, rice and wheat.
One of the crops included in the USDA/APHIS announcement, a genetically engineered brown mustard, was developed by Pairwise Plants. This crop was the focus of our May 2023 New GMO Alert, which detailed the company’s use of CRISPR to develop mustard greens that were less bitter, enabling them to be marketed as healthier salad greens under the Conscious Greens label.
Below are brief overviews of some of the other crops listed in the USDA/APHIS announcement, as well as other crops/traits that are being created by the same biotechnology developers.
Located in the U.K., Tropic Biosciences (Tropic) is using CRISPR to genetically engineer bananas. According to the USDA/APHIS announcement, the company’s non-browning banana was recently determined to be non-regulated. In April, the non-browning banana was also deemed to be non-GMO by the Philippine government. Tropic is also using CRISPR to genetically engineer other traits into bananas, such as resistance to Panama fungus disease and resistance to black sigatoka disease.
However, the banana is not the only crop of interest to Tropic. The company is also creating genetically engineered traits in coffee, such as lower caffeine and improved solubility for use in instant coffee, and rice, including increased yield and resistance to rice blast.
Yield10 Bioscience, Inc.
Located in Woburn, Massachusetts, Yield10 Bioscience (Yield10) is focused on the development of genetically engineered varieties of camelina using its proprietary “Trait Factory.” Much of this work is carried out using CRISPR. The USDA/APHIS announcement detailed the non-regulated status of four camelina events: one event that is herbicide resistant to glufosinate and three stacked events that are herbicide resistant to glufosinate, imidazolinone and sulfonylurea.
According to Yield10, these determinations are key to the company’s plan to make camelina more widely accepted and adopted for seed oil production. Yeild10 is hoping for a commercial launch of its glufosinate-tolerant camelina as early as 2025.
Overall, Yield10 claims that it has more than 15 novel yield traits in development. These include increased yield through reduced photorespiration, increased yield through augmented plant growth and increased seed weight, increased seed oil content, increased Omega fatty acid production, and increased photosynthetic efficiency leading to increased biomass production.
Inari Agriculture, Inc.
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Inari Agriculture (Inari) is a biotechnology company that uses “multiplex gene editing” through its proprietary SEEDesign platform to improve crop yields, specifically in corn, soy and wheat. The USDA/APHIS announcement detailed the non-regulated status of a corn that has been genetically engineered using CRISPR to feature an “altered plant architecture,“ which is designed to limit the height of corn plants in order to prevent them from toppling over and thus reducing yield.
In February 2022, Inari announced a collaboration with InterGrain, an Australian cereal breeding company, to improve the yield of wheat by 10 to 15%. That same month, Inari announced the issuance of two patents: one for INIR6, a gene edited corn based on DuPont’s genetically modified DP-4114 stacked herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant corn, and the other for INHT31, a gene edited soy based on Monsanto’s genetically modified MON-89788 RoundupReady2Yield soybean.
BioHeuris is an Argentinian biotechnology developer whose focus is on creating herbicide-resistant crops. The company self-identifies as an agbiotech startup that uses synthetic biology and gene editing for improved crop management. The crop/trait identified in the USDA/APHIS announcement as non-regulated was a soybean that had been genetically engineered for herbicide resistance (specifically 2,4-D) using CRISPR. The soybean had been submitted for regulatory status review (RSR) in August 2023.
In 2021, BioHeuris announced a partnership with GDM, a soybean genetics firm, to develop high-yielding soybean varieties using gene editing. The company also revealed that it had filed a provisional patent in the U.S. for “crop genes optimized” through the use of its proprietary “protein evolution technology” Heurik.
Also submitted to USDA APHIS for an RSR in August 2023 (ultimately, with the same non-regulated status determination) was a BioHeuris-developed herbicide-resistant cotton. In 2021, BioHeuris announced that it was partnering with an Argentinian seed company to develop herbicide-resistant varieties of cotton using CRISPR. According to the company's website, it is also developing, either independently or in partnership with others, genetically engineered versions of sorghum, rice, alfalfa, peanut, maize and sunflower.
Insignum AgTech (Insignum) is a relatively new biotechnology startup located in Indiana. Founded in 2019, the company's mission is to use gene editing to enable plants to communicate the status of their health through color, with the goal of serving as an early warning sign of potential issues that could ultimately impact yield. In 2022, the company received a $100,000 grant from the Purdue Ag-Celerator.
The USDA/APHIS announcement detailed the non-regulated status of the company’s first crop, which features a genetically engineered trait that turns the leaves purple in response to fungal infection. Last year, Insignum entered into a collaboration with Beck’s, a seed purveyor, to conduct field trials, as well as to test the trait in Beck’s seed varieties; the partnership will continue in 2024. Ultimately, Insignum hopes to engineer crops that can display different colors to identify a range of yield-limiting issues, such as insect infestation or low fertility.
Again, none of the crops listed above will be subject to biotechnology regulations according to the USDA/APHIS announcement.
Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family.
Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.
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