Spicy Tomatoes and 4 Other GMOs That Could Save Lives

Spicy Tomatoes and 4 Other GMOs That Could Save Lives

[♪ INTRO] It’s been over forty years since genetically
modified organisms became a thing, and they’re still a contentious subject. And that’s in part because GMOs suffer from
a serious image problem. That’s probably because most of the GMOs
we hear about are designed to increase crop yield and therefore profit for farmers and
big biotech corporations. So consumers are understandably left wondering,
“What’s in it for me?” The answer to that is: potentially a lot,
because there are all kinds of GMOs on the horizon that are designed to save human lives
rather than line pockets. It’s worth remembering that genetic engineering
is a tool—and it’s how you use it that counts. And today, we’re going to talk about 5 cases
where genetic modification could be used to help people directly, from vaccine-delivering
fruits to cancer-fighting eggs. Beta-carotene is one of the main pigments
that gives orange and yellow fruits and vegetables their brilliant colors. It’s also an important nutrient because
it gets converted into vitamin A—an essential vitamin that your body can’t make on its
own. Cells all over your body need vitamin A, but
it’s especially important to your eyes because it’s used to make one of the light-sensing
proteins that allows you to see. And while a typical Western diet contains
enough of the stuff, in some parts of the world, vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem. It affects millions of people, especially
kids. So scientists have been trying to find a way
to get people more vitamin A for a long time, and genetic engineering may be a part of the
solution. Golden rice is a genetically-modified rice
variety with lots of beta-carotene in its grains—which is what gives it that characteristic
color. And because of all that beta-carotene, studies
suggest just 100 to 150 grams of cooked golden rice—about a bowlful—can provide a person
with roughly half of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. Rice was chosen because it’s a staple in
many parts of the world where vitamin A deficiency is a big problem, like Africa and southeast
Asia. And unmodified rice plants can already synthesise
beta-carotene. The problem is, they only do this in their
leaves—two key steps are switched off in the grain. So the enzymes needed for those steps are
added back in by golden rice’s transgenes—the genes that come from other organisms. Specifically, the GE plant has a phytoene
synthase from maize, and a bacterial phytoene desaturase from a common soil bacteria. These are hooked up to a grain-specific promoter—a
sequence of DNA that ensures they’re only expressed in the rice grains. And they were added to the rice’s genome
with the help of a bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. It’s a plant pathogen that, in nature, injects
parts of its DNA into plant cells to make the plants produce tumor-like growths that
the bacteria feed on. Scientists in the 1970s were able to figure
out exactly what DNA it introduces and what genes were needed to make that happen. And that allowed them to transform this pest
into a DNA-delivery vector. Even now, with all kinds of genetic technologies
available, it’s one of most common methods used to modify plants. And while the process seems pretty straightforward,
golden rice has been in development for nearly two decades. Part of that has been tweaking the plants
to get them to produce enough beta-carotene while still yielding enough rice for farmers. And part of it has been fighting the haters—anti-GMO
groups have been campaigning against its introduction from the get-go. Despite all these challenges, golden rice
is pretty close to becoming a reality. It’s been approved by multiple regulatory
agencies around the world, including the US FDA. And in places like Bangladesh, commercial
cultivation could happen in 2019. Salsa lovers rejoice! The day is coming when you won’t have to
add hot peppers to your favorite spicy condiment. Scientists are considering developing a tomato
variety that contains the same spicy compound as a jalapeno or habanero. It’s probably not immediately obvious to
you why this would be considered a “health GMO,” but as it turns out, the compound
that makes peppers spicy — called capsaicin — also has health benefits. Scientists are especially interested in its
anti-tumor and pain-relieving properties. And that’s where tomatoes come in. Tomatoes are a distant relative of hot peppers
— the two diverged around 19 million years ago — and they still possess the genes to
make capsaicin. They’re just turned off. So, to get spicy tomatoes, genetic engineering
would just have to coax the plants to turn them back on. Scientists could just get capsaicin from hot
peppers directly instead of tinkering with tomato genes. But, peppers are especially vulnerable to
pests, and the amount of capsaicin they produce is unpredictable. Also, it takes a lot of land to grow them
in bulk. A hectare will only produce about 3 metric
tons of hot peppers, while the same plot of land can yield around 110 metric tons of tomatoes. This is all still theoretical, but scientists
are considering a couple of approaches to turn those bland tomatoes into capsaicin factories. In one approach, scientists could use proteins
called transcriptional activator-like effector proteins, or TAL effectors. These bind to promoter sequences in plant
DNA to turn genes on. They actually originally come from Xanthomonas
species, bacterial plant pathogens which cause a disease called bacterial spot in tomatoes
and peppers using these expression-changing proteins. But, like the bacteria used to make golden
rice, TAL effectors can be customized to activate pretty much any plant genes scientists want—including
the key genes in the capsaicin synthesis pathway. Alternatively, scientists could use gene editing
techniques like CRISPR to replace the promoter regions of the inactive genes with promoters
from genes that are expressed in tomato fruits. If they used this method, there wouldn’t
be any transgenes involved—the plants would just have sections of their own DNA copied
and pasted elsewhere in their genome. Of course, until researchers actually try
these ideas out in a lab, they won’t know for sure if reactivating the genes will work
the way it’s supposed to. If it does, though, it’ll be great news
for health professionals studying capsaicin—and for pranksters looking for an especially evil
practical joke. One of the most common childhood allergies
is milk and dairy. Kids generally outgrow it, but about two to
three percent of infants can’t be given milk products, including most formulas. And that’s a difficult problem if they are
not or cannot be breastfed. But geneticists think they have a solution:
a genetically modified cow whose milk doesn’t have the whey protein beta-lactoglobulin,
or BLG—the main allergen behind milk allergies. The first of these hypoallergenic cows was
Daisy—a dairy cow in New Zealand whose creation was detailed in a 2012 study in the journal
PNAS. Added to her genome are two small snippets
of DNA that create microRNAs—tiny RNAs that interfere with protein production. To make a protein, cells first transcribe
the DNA from a gene into RNA, and then that RNA is translated into a protein sequence. MicroRNAs bind to these RNA sequences, keeping
them from getting translated. Daisy expresses two microRNAs to target the
BLG protein, so she produces basically none of it in her milk. Since the 2012 study, scientists have monitored
12 of Daisy’s female offspring, and they have no detectable levels of BLG in their
milk, either—which suggests the change is lasting, so a herd of hypoallergenic cows
is possible. More recent studies have used other gene editing
approaches to simply turn off the BLG gene. A 2018 paper in the journal Scientific Reports
used zinc-finger nucleases, a kind of molecular scissors, to snip BLG’s promoter region,
creating a mutation that makes it inactive. Both of these are still proof of concept studies,
though. And they’ve run into the same problem. A cow’s body seems to compensate for the
lack of BLG by increasing expression of other milk proteins, including casein, which can
separately trigger allergies. So more research is needed before GMO cows
can actually start providing the world with allergen-free milk. Cancers are a major medical problem, and it
doesn’t help that the drugs we use to treat them can be expensive and difficult to produce. Take interferon-beta, a tumor-suppressor that
doctors can prescribe to help tackle several kinds of cancer. The protein is produced naturally by the human
body to help regulate the immune response. But since we can’t really extract large
amounts of it from people, for pharmaceutical use, it’s manufactured in what’s called
a mechanical bioreactor. The process involves growing tons cells that
have been genetically modified to produce the drug, then extracting the drug afterwards. Then one day, some scientists in Japan apparently
thought, “You know what’s less expensive than a mechanical bioreactor? A chicken.” As they explain in a 2018 paper in Scientific
Reports, the team used CRISPR to insert human interferon-beta DNA into the chicken’s primordial
germ cells—the ones that become sperm. They stuck the gene next to the one for ovalbumin—the
main protein in egg whites—to ensure the drug would be heavily expressed in eggs. The modified cells were then injected into
two and a half day-old embryonic roosters, which grew up into healthy adults with the
new gene in their genome. That’s only step 2. These males were then bred with hens so that
they’d end up with offspring that carried the protein-producing gene. The hens from that generation were the ones
that went on to lay eggs with interferon-beta in their whites, from which the drug could
be extracted. This seems like an awful lot of trouble, but
chicken-produced interferon-beta could be up to 90 percent more cost-effective than
the stuff made with the usual production method. In fact, these chickens are so efficient at
producing the protein that some estimates say a small flock of a few hundred birds could
satisfy worldwide demand for the drug. And there are other benefits to using chickens,
as opposed to plants or other animals. It turns out chicken proteins and human proteins
have similar patterns of sugar groups added to them. So human immune systems are less likely to
attack proteins produced by chickens than those made by traditional methods. And these Japanese drug-making chickens aren’t
the only ones out there. Scientists in the UK have also successfully
created GMO chickens that produce cancer-fighting proteins in their eggs. But so far, these engineered chickens only
show it’s possible. We’re years away from such research changing
the way many drugs are manufactured. People in places like the US might take for
granted the fact that there are no logistical barriers keeping them from getting vaccinations
to prevent some of the world’s worst diseases. But vaccines generally have to stay refrigerated
and be administered by a doctor, and that means they’re a lot harder to get in some
parts of the world. That’s why scientists are trying to make
edible vaccines — plants that are genetically engineered to provide immunity to the people
who consume them. The idea is that they’d work a lot like
a regular vaccine—they’d deliver some benign target that looks like a key part of
the dangerous pathogen, so your immune system can learn to recognize that and mount an effective
defense if you’re ever exposed to the real deal. Researchers have already made a banana that
contains a chunk of DNA from the bacteria that causes cholera, for example. The transgene in the fruit—which encodes
for a harmless part of the cholera toxin—was added using Agrobacterium, in a process much
like the one that created golden rice. And in the end, the bananas contain enough
of the protein that one dried banana chip could be an effective vaccine dose. Banana-based vaccines are also being developed
against hepatitis B, but they’re likely to work best against gastrointestinal diseases
like rotavirus—a highly contagious childhood stomach ailment that kills more than 200,000
children a year. That’s because the bananas come into direct
contact with the mucosal lining of the stomach, stimulating the immune defenses there. You could theoretically choose any edible
plant for such vaccines, but bananas are a pretty great choice because they don’t need
to be refrigerated and are already a common staple in areas where these vaccines are most
needed. And, they’re often eaten raw. And that’s an important piece of the puzzle,
because cooking could destroy the vaccine part. Banana-vaccines could also be really cost-efficient. According to one estimate, about 81 hectares
of land could be enough to produce hepatitis B vaccines for every baby in the world. But, these edible vaccines aren’t quite
ready to hit the world stage—there are some kinks to work out, like getting them to make
reliable amounts of the inserted protein in each fruit. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, though, is simply
the long path to clinical approval. Like any other vaccine, GM bananas will have
to run the regulatory gauntlet to show they’re both safe and effective before they’re approved
for use, and that could take decades. There are a lot of other awesome GMOs in the
works, too—like carrots with more calcium to fight osteoporosis. Or, tobacco plants that produce antibodies
which inactivate the ebola virus. Our ability to manipulate genomes has all
sorts of potential medical uses. Because genetic engineering isn’t an inherently
bad thing. And when it’s used well, it can do a lot
of good. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! And extra thanks to all of our supporters,
including our channel members and our Patreon patrons. If you like what you just saw, stick around! If you subscribe to the channel and you’ll
get notified every time we upload a new episode. And if you want to learn more about genetic
engineering specifically, you might like our episode on CRISPR. [♪ OUTRO]


  1. I haven't seen much GMO kerfuffle in over a decade now. The only contentious issues are not those regarding GMOs in general, but specific ones, such as increased use of gliphosate in Monsanto crops.

  2. The Golden Rice is a fine idea, and also not a bad tool, but there is a Problem.
    The big problem for regions with vitamin A deficiency is the loss of fat in the local, mostly poor diet.
    There still are some carotinoids in their diet (mostly not enough, but not none). But the lack of fat in an only rice and vegetable based diet prohibits the body from absorbing the carotinoids properly.
    This is because of the molecular structure of carotinoids, and their difference so the human digestive system.
    Carotinoids are non polar molecules with dislocated double carbon bonds (therefore getting their colour). The human digestive system is a polar based system, because it mostly operates with water.
    The polar carotinoids and the unpolar water based gut system do not easily work together. They need a helper molecule.
    Our guts are suited to absorb and digest fats and fats do infact mix well with carotinoids. The mixture of both can then be absorbed by our guts.
    So in conclusion:
    Golden rice is nice, but it doesn't solve the problem if you don't give the people some kind of fat source too.

    Otherwise I love your videos, keep the good stuff coming.
    Greetings from Germany 😀
    (excuse my spelling mistaces, I am sure i did some oopsies)

  3. maybe we can just stop drinking cows milk? maybe there's a good reason so many people are alergic to it? cows milk is intended for clafs, not for humans.

  4. Its not the GMO its the unethical trade practices of companies like monsanto. We're steps away from rich kids being the only ones born free of genetic cancers.

  5. 375 downvotes from anti-GMO haters who would rather kids in Africa and South-East Asia go blind than let satanic Monsanto Rothschild Big-Pharma Chemtrails Flat-Earth Vaccine Autism Illuminati.

  6. I can remember learning about golden rice in college nearly 10 years ago.

    Had to write a paper on it and was heavily influenced by the professor to be negative about its impact.

    There are definitely problems in the education system. Explains why a few years ago, even this show had bias about it.

  7. GMOs are awesome! The ones designed to increase yields as well, because feeding more people with less land is freaking great!

  8. Everyone, her look is fiiiine… but she has done WAY better on delivery, and she is fixing monotone!!! There is a god!!!!!
    if the beanie is a little bit odd, it's because All beanies remind ppl of Jimmy neutron

  9. I recently did an unpublished literature review on plant-made vaccines! They have a lot of benefits but there are concerns which holds back the progress between research and product. Edible vaccines have been researched in lots of vegetables including potatoes but that fell through when they realised cooked potatoes neutralised the immunogenic component. Lettuce is a good one because when the leaves are freeze dried, the dosage is much more likely to be accurate per unit of mass. It's can be useful for treating livestock and for poverty stricken areas which are not capable of hosting more stringent methods of vaccine productions (tissue cell culture or bacterial production for example). This is including vaccines which would be purified from the plant tissue rather than eaten raw. Plants are also capable of producing complex proteins with changes after the initial translation of RNA, which for simpler organisms such as E. coli is not possible. One of the problems not mentioned are concerns of cross-breeding between GMOed plants and "natural" plants, especially in crops.

  10. We're playing God, we're editing genes. That's why people are anti gmo, they view it as morality wrong. Gmos and huge amounts of pesticides and fungicides causes super bugs. Google the latest super bug, they say the cause is pesticides AND gmos. Gmos may say lifes, but we do not know the long effects on the environment/health.

  11. GMO cows do that humans can drink cows’ milk… or… we could,,, not drink milk from cows? Idk just an idea

  12. Anti-GMO individuals who own pets own a GMO, if they eat anything they’re eating GMOs regardless of what the label says because the plants and animals they say aren’t GMOs may not be actively changed when grown or raised but that doesn’t mean the organism hasn’t been changed over hundreds to thousands of years. So being an anti-GMO makes 0 sense especially if you care about others living

  13. I would like tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes again. contemporary grown for market tomatoes have become largely tasteless, compared to what you could get even fifty years ago. It is not just the growing methods. The new seeds produce an inferior product. The changes in tomatoes started well before the GMO factor came into being.

  14. What would be really amazing, would be if it was possible to grow not just spicy tomatoes, but spicy tomatoes and potatoes from the same plant.

  15. As an environmental studies major, I am so thankful for this video. Most of my professors don’t often discuss GMOs, but they undermine it by supporting organic produce. Most of my colleagues are against gmos, but when I ask them about golden rice, they have no idea what I’m talking about. I’d also like to mention the importance for gmos for resistance to combat climate change and to help humans become multiplanetary.

  16. There will soon be 10 billion of us on our planet. Where will we be able to grow all the organic vegetables? GMOs are the future.

  17. Lol. The. Fact that you can change the DNA of the food. That's why it's a problem. Sooo with that. You can genes that can be harmful.

  18. kinda funny to me with gmos exspecially with animal gmo's we are acting like a virus would at least certain kinds of virus were we alter the dna not only the one instance but basically code that gene carry at least a version of the dna we originall implanted int the orgaanism generation down the line

  19. I would rather have a gmo that's been checked over by experts than random wild plants that could have mutations that make them toxic, or deficienct in vitamins, or cause allergies. Anti gmo people are the same ones that are anti vaccination. ..

  20. If our country was not an Oligarchy I would trust the science. Paying attention to evil corporations like Monsanto has led me to stay away from. Look what they did to India farmers. I have sciatica and now I am unable to eat pizza. What is in wheat to cause inflammatory response? RoundUp. Did the Koch brothers fund this?

  21. There is a down side to all of this… Look at the sugar rich addictive grocery isles. Orange juice is a joke. Everything has sugar. Everything is unhealthy. It would be sad if the produce isle also became this way… More than it already has with artificial selection.

  22. GMO's being useful for vitamins and vaccination sounds good. In my opinion as long as plant life is diverse enough so a viron/ disease doesn't lead to mass plant death, it doesn't sound bad. Unrelated, Olivia's hair looked fabulous here.

  23. My two problems with GMO's have always been that the FDA let the companies do their own testing with absolutely no oversight and then corporations like Monsanto and others would force farmers to buy seeds that can't reproduce. They have to buy new seed every season and they economic captives without options.

  24. Then one day, some scientists in Japan apparently thought, "You know what's less expensive than a mechanical bioreactor? A chicken."

    I like this anime because it's so realistic!

  25. Let's just shoot all those anti vaxxers and anti gmoers to the moon and leave them there (without food or oxygen)! Nobody needs them. The world would be a better place without those fearmongers.

  26. every time she says capsaicin, it reminds me of plane'arium from south park. i think she has the same disease.

  27. 12:25 Why tobacco? Doesn’t the medical community say that chewing or smoking tobacco can cause gum and lung diseases respectively?

  28. I have also heard tell of Canadian Dairy Farmers who are trying to see if they can genetically modify cows to produce less harmful gases when they digest, thus helping with the whole “cow farts are contributing to climate change” issue.

  29. I hadn't ever heard of the golden rice debate- now I'm furious about the naysayers. What the actual hell??? It's just got some vitamin A in it! This is a matter of saving children!

    Also, this isn't relevant really, but I love your hair today, it looks great!

  30. Could you imagine being so inept and pathologically arrogant that you would prefer knowing millions of poor people in Asia are suffering serious and preventable health crises than actually taking time to form an educated opinion by reading scientific articles, then having the nerve to claim that scientists are paid off when they don't agree with your ignorant biases?

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