This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes. The potatoes, created by JR Simplot, have been engineered to resist potato blight. Potato blight is still a major problem for farmers throughout the world and these new GMO potatoes have been marketed as a way to prevent this disease. Simplot also claims that their GMO potatoes bruise less, contain fewer black spots, and have enhanced storage capacity, though these claims have not been scientifically verified. It is estimated that these processes will conclude by January of next year, entering the market officially in the spring of 2017.
On the face of it, the new potato varieties called “Innate” seem attractive. If you peel the brown skin off their white flesh, you won’t find many unsightly black spots. And when you fry them, you’ll probably get a much smaller dose of a potentially harmful chemical.
It’s GMO, but cisgenic rather than transgenic. They made a copy of a gene natively found in the potato, modified it slightly, and put it back in. This actually has the effect of turning off the native copy of the gene as the two basically interfere with one another.
There is a hidden danger in these potatoes. Though GM crops often use gene splicing, recombinant DNA, and similar techniques. These potatoes are the first plant product using a new technique to advance beyond the experimental stage. The technique, known as double-stranded (ds) RNA, reprograms and silences the genes of the organism. Essentially, a small molecule of RNA is inserted into the potato cells, which reprograms and silences genes in certain pathways.
READ MORE: Three New Non Browning GMO Apples Coming Your Way!
Other studies have confirmed this, such as a 2012 study which showed that dsRNA can transfer from plants to humans and other animals through food.Other scientists and concerned citizens have also noted that the dsRNA found in the potatoes targets several complex pathways, namely those involved in blight resistance and another involved in browning. This means that there is also the possibility that these modifications could interact with each other, creating new surprise side effects. Also, one of the substances suppressed by the dsRNA plays a vital role in the potatoes’ chemical makeup, and its absence is expected to negatively impact its ability to fight pests, something which will likely benefit pesticide companies much more than consumers.
Even some of the biggest potato buyers in the country, such as Frito-Lay and McDonald’s, seem afraid to touch these potatoes. Others don’t even want to talk about them because they are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.