The blog, Rael the Prophet, reports on an article in the UK Telegraph about a research on a genetically engineered tear-free onion being collaboratively conducted by researchers from Japan and the New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research. We're all aware how teary an onion can be if mishandled when chopping. To men and women who spend considerable amounts of time cooking, this, definitely is news worth celebrating.
In addition to ridding onion of the gene that causes teary effects on our eyes, these researchers promise that this new variety will be sweeter and healthier.
What an exciting research? Indeed, it has generated quite a buzz. The journal Onion World, in its December edition, has featured this work, which is being piloted by Dr. Colin Eady. The popular environmental blog Environmental Grafita gleefully proclaims, GM onions means no more tears, with sarcasm:
Anti-GMO activists may soon be tearing up after a New Zealand company announced the development of a genetically modified tear free onion.
I can't also wait to see their [anti-biotech activists] reactions. Instead of inserting a foreign gene into the onion, which has been the practice in crop genetic engineering, researchers in this project will be working to suppress the gene that makes onions teary.
The key is not to introduce a foreign gene but to silence one using a phenomenon called RNA interference. By stopping sulphur compounds from being converted to the tearing agent and redirecting them into compounds responsible for flavour and health, the process could even improve the onion.
So, which direction will the debate on safety of this new onion variety take? We're always told there's no guarantee of safety of genes inserted into crops such as corn, cotton, or soya. Will the anti-biotech groups now claim removing a gene from a crop, and onion onion for that matter, will compromise human health and the environment? Let's wait for the debate to start.
James Wachai specializes in agricultural biotechnology communication.