Gene Genie: the weird and wonderful future of our foods

To meet the future demands of a global population that is predicted to total 9.2 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need for solutions to improve the sustainability of our agricultural and manufacturing systems. In response to these concerns, the biotechnology sector appears to be putting its gene-splicing fingers in all the pies. Moving on from genetically modified crops, attempts are now being made to master the nature of animal life so as to increase efficiency and yield of production. Future products to look out for include in-vitro meat that has been grown through tissue engineering; GM salmon that has been modified with another salmon species’ hormone to increase its growth speed; and meat products that have been printed through 3D printers. The future of our food – and perhaps more importantly our understanding and relationship with the food production process – is clearly set for an almighty makeover, Trekkie-style.

Entering into this movement is another innovative vision that has been thought up by Carole Collet, a researcher, designer and Deputy Director of the Textile Futures Research Centre at Central Saint Martins College, University of the Arts London. Her vision is one that combines the production of enhanced fruits and vegetables with the production of textiles in one specimen, a specimen she has christened ‘hyperfruit’. Examples of potential hyperfruits are currently exhibited at Futuro Textile 3 in Lille, France, and offer the viewer a fascinating, if not completely bizarre vision of what our vegetable gardens could look like in the future. Tomato growers could be feasting on tomatoes that not only provide Factor 60 sun protection but also a delicious edible lace from their roots. Popeye’s diet has the potential to multitask with the Gold Nano Spinach plant, providing him with a nutritional snack at the same time as growing micro biological transistors for his home electrics. And if you’ve ever wondered what Wimbledon would look like in the world of Tim Burton, the Strawberry Noir plant may offer a glimpse: gothic strawberries and cream, anyone?

Strawberry Noir

As with GM crops, concerns are already being raised about the consequences this continued merging of ‘nature’ and ‘science’ within the food sector could bring. The concerns span ethical, cultural, environmental, political and social spheres and involve issues ranging from ownership claims to whether they can be efficiently scaled-up to provide viable solutions for global hunger and environmental sustainability. The potential innovations we could see entering our everyday diets are almost unimaginable at this point, but there are currently a heck of a lot of people investing huge amounts of time, money and expertise in trying to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Whereas I’m all for a strawberry that comes with its own-grown lace doily, what I am concerned about is the rhetoric that surrounds these innovative foodstuffs. Most of their creators emphasise the impending rise in global population and stress that the current food system cannot possibly cope to meet demands, and as such their products seemingly provide an efficient solution. Academics have shown, however, that the reason for 1 billion people currently suffering from chronic undernourishment is not because of a lack of total food in the world, but rather their inability to access it. This inability could be due to economic, physical, social and/or cultural reasons that prevent certain peoples – usually those living in poverty – from accessing adequate amounts of food in a world that produces more than enough to feed every single person. For me then, the rise of biotechnological foodstuffs is at risk of misunderstanding the issues that have created a highly unjust and inefficient global food system, and may simply add to these dynamics rather than offering true solutions and true change.

It is too early to judge how and to what extent these innovative food products will change the world over the next century, but it seems a world where we print our meals Star Trek-style, fix the wiring with a bit of spinach plant and adorn our garments with tomato lace is actually not as crazy as it sounds.

A post by Alexandra Sexton; thethinkingtankblog.wordpress.com

Gold Nano Spinach

Basil No. 5

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