It’s an exciting time in genetic engineering! I’ve long been bored by the simplicity of our contemporary transgenic crops and the single-minded focus on agronomic traits. Dropping in an herbicide or pest resistance gene is good for the environment and the farmer, but it doesn’t visibly benefit the consumer very much and just doesn’t impress me technically. Now, Monsanto and Pioneer’s new soybean varieties are heralding a new era of more sophisticated metabolic engineering of traits that will directly benefit the public.
One good thing about the industrialization of agriculture is that nothing gets wasted. Vegetable oils get turned into all kinds of different products: cooking oils, frying oils, salad oils, cosmetics, industrial waxes, lubricants and polymers, margarine, shortening, medical products and biodiesel. As you might expect, different characteristics are important for different applications. For example, it’s important for frying oils to withstand high temperatures without burning and forming bad-tasting impurities – and all the better if the oil’s low in saturation and full of omega 3s and vitamin E.