Overripe bananas may soon become just a memory, at least in the Philippines.
Tropical Biosciencesa UK-based start-up has used gene editing to eliminate the browning fruit and mitigate the havoc it wreaks.
Currently, more than 60% of exported bananas are wasted before reaching the consumer. According to Tropic, the non-browning version could reduce food waste and CO2 emissions in supply chains by more than 25%. In terms of CO2 reduction, the impact is comparable to taking 2 million passenger cars off the road every year.
For the Philippines, there is a more urgent appeal. The country is the main producer and exporter of bananas in Southeast Asia, but is ravaged by a devastating plant disease. Known as Panama TR4, the disease threatens 80% of global banana production – and there is no cure for it.
Tropic may have a solution: processing bananas to make them disease resistant. Unsurprisingly, the Philippine government has welcomed the prospect.
In a press release last month, Tropic announced that Philippine officials have given the go-ahead for the bananas not turning brown. Under the country’s newly defined gene editing rules, the product can now be freely imported and propagated.
“The Philippine government has implemented a science-based, transparent and efficient process for assessing the safety of gene-edited plants,” said Dr. Ofir Meir, Tropic’s Chief Technology Officer.
“This is exactly the type of system that encourages companies like Tropic to invest in innovative technologies to develop sustainable solutions for Philippine farmers.”
For Tropic, bananas are just the beginning. Using gene editing tools including CRISPR and the property GEiGS system, the company can alter the DNA of multiple organisms. In addition to delaying banana ripening, the startup has already reduced the caffeine in coffee and increased rice yields.
The benefits can be enormous. Tropic promises a higher yield, longer shelf life, improved disease resistance, less waste and lower CO2 emissions. The company also says it can save costs for growers.
Of course, that splurge is not motivated solely by altruism. Blue horizonwho led last year’s round estimates that the the total market for Tropic’s products is worth more than $400 billion.