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New GMO Alert: Turning Fruit Flies Into GMO Bioreactors

Biotech Uses Fruit Flies as Machines

New GMO Alert: Turning Fruit Flies Into GMO Bioreactors

Biotech Uses Fruit Flies as Machines

As you likely know, the development of new GMO techniques (e.g., ODM, TALEN, CRISPR) has broadened the scope of genetic modification. New GMOs are no longer necessarily transgenic. They are increasingly unregulated. They do not necessarily even involve plants but can be microorganisms (e.g., yeast modified to produce blood) or animals (e.g., mosquitoes modified to self limit). 

CRISPR has made synthetic biology (synbio), also known as precision fermentation, easy and ubiquitous, its derivatives increasingly used as the featured ingredients in consumer products. Microorganisms can now be engineered to exploit what they do naturally to produce a range of proteins, including animal proteins. Molecular farming ramps synthetic biology up a notch, substituting crops for microorganisms, so that developers can genetically modify plants and exploit them for what they do naturally to produce a range of novel proteins, including animal proteins. All of this begs the question: “So, what’s next?”

Enter Future Fields, a Canadian company founded in 2018. Officially registered as Future Fields Cellular Agriculture and Research, the company began as a cell-cultured meat developer but then pivoted after seeking – and finding – a solution to the high cost of developing recombinant proteins via precision fermentation.

The most-common mechanism for producing recombinant proteins today is through the use of genetically modified microorganisms and bioreactors. However, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 10 billion liters of bioreactor capacity will be required by 2030, but only 61 million liters exist today, and the essential reliance on bioreactors is considered to be a large part of the cost associated with the scaled-up production of cell-cultured meat. 

Future Fields’s pivot involved the conceptualization and development of a new type of “bioreactor” – a genetically modified fruit fly (i.e., Drosophila melanogaster). Under the company’s “fly biotechnology” platform, the EntoEngine, fruit flies are genetically modified to produce recombinant proteins. Once the flies are harvested, the proteins are extracted and purified

Future Fields has already commercialized its first products, and its website features two recombinant protein offerings (both fibroblast growth factors [FGFs]): Recombinant Human FGF2 and Recombinant Bovine FGF2. The company claims to have provided recombinant protein products to approximately 60 companies in 20 countries.

In February, Future Fields announced that it had raised $11.2 million ($15.1 million Canadian) to scale up its recombinant protein production in fruit flies. It will use the funding for strategic hiring and to increase its production capacity with a 10,000-ft manufacturing facility as it considers new markets beyond cell-cultured meat. Previously, the company had raised $13.4 million.

That being said, there’s a movement in Canada to ensure that genetically modified animals are not released into the wild, regardless of whether the modified organism is a salmon or a fruit fly. This comes as the Canadian government is in the process of updating its Environmental Protection Act. Future Fields is awaiting approval by the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change. In the meantime, Nature Canada has asked the Canadian government to suspend the review until the process is improved.

Also, given the controversy regarding cell-cultured meat’s use of fetal bovine serum (FBS), which involves the harvesting of blood from unborn calves, it is unknown whether or how the source of this recombinant protein, one that is harvested from and involves the killing of another organism, fruit flies, will be communicated or marketed to consumers.

The 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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