Molecular agriculture, GMO soy with pig genes

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GMO soy

The new horizons of biotechnology – which the European Parliament wishes to deregulate by the end of the current legislature (1) – include the production of animal proteins in plants, through ‘molecular agriculture’, such as GMO soya with pig genes, Piggy Soy, developed in Argentina and the U.S.A

1) Moolec Science

Moolec Science SA is a spin off of Bioceres Group and partner of Bioceres Crop Solutions, itself known for producing and exporting the first GMO wheat that ignores drought and resists glufosinate ammonium (2). The company was founded in 2020 by Gastón Paladini, who boasts over 20 years of experience in the family industry Paladini Group, one of the first meat producers in Argentina.

The activities are currently distributed in various research and development hubs in the U.S. (Washington State University) Europe (Holland, Germany, Italy), India. The majority shareholders are BG Farming Technologies (UK) and Union Group Ventures (Israel). The listing on Wall Street (NASDAQ: MLEC) in January 2023 made it possible to raise several tens of millions of dollars in capital and other investments. (3)

2) Molecular agriculture

The innovation proposed by Moolec consists of ‘molecular agriculture’, with a focus on the production of animal proteins through plants. A ‘disruptive technology in the alternative protein landscape‘, we read in the investor reports, (4) aimed at ‘improve the taste, nutrition and accessibility of alternative protein products, while building a more sustainable and equitable food system.

The new GMO seeds from molecular agriculture are produced and transformed as follows:

– selection. Selection of DNA from the animal protein of interest, insertion of the animal protein gene into an expression vector;

– transformation. Insertion of the vector into the plant chromosome, selection and culture of the cells that express the desired protein;

– development (scale-up). Biotech cells grow in plants, which are grown first in greenhouses, then in the fields;

– production. GMO seeds are collected and crushed to produce plant-based ingredients with animal proteins. (5)

The technological approach of the company aims to have the cost structure of plant-based solutions with the organoleptic properties and functionality of animal-based ones’. 23 international patent applications, some of which have already been granted. The first bovine protein (chymosin) was reproduced by Bioceres through saffron plants. Moolec then focused on plants with greater agronomic efficiency such as soybeans and peas, as well as on pig genes.

2.1) ‘Molecular farming’ and ‘cell culture’, similarities and differences

Molecular agriculture (‘plant molecular farming’):

– has some similarities with cellular agriculture (‘cell culture’, or ‘precision fermentation’), as both are based on the idea of ​​genetically instructing organisms to produce new molecules, and yet

– differs from it because genetically modified organisms synthesize and multiply target molecules in plants, which can be easily grown, rather than in bioreactors which still present scalability problems.

‘Plant molecular farming’ it has been used since the end of the 80s to produce medicines (e.g. proteins, antibodies, therapies and vaccines) and has gained popularity thanks to its affordability, scalability and production flexibility. It was then used to produce industrial enzymes and, in the last 20 years, it has begun to express its potential in the food sector.

Proteins and enzymes to produce cheese, animal proteins such as heme ‘vegetable blood’ (6), egg proteins, structural proteins such as collagen, growth factors for ‘lab meat’ – but also pigments for the food and healthcare industry, dyes , biopesticides, fats and metabolites – can therefore be created with molecular agriculture, whose pioneers in fact raise investments. (7)

3) Piggy sooy

Piggy Sooy represents tangible and visual proof that Moolec technology has the ability to achieve significant yields in meat protein production plants. With this revolutionary achievement, Moolec consolidates its position as a category creator and pioneer of molecular agriculture for the food industry. Our plant biology team is making food science history, I couldn’t be more proud of them‘ (Gastón Paladini, Moolec Science, CEO).

‘Animal protein achieved a high level of expression, up to 26,6% of the total soluble protein in soybeans, four times higher than the company initially expected. The result can be directly observed thanks to the pink color of Moolec soybeans, the same color as pork‘. The first open field crops are planned in the U.S. in the next months.

This result opens a precedent for the entire scientific community that is trying to achieve high levels of protein expression in seeds through molecular agriculture. Moolec has developed a unique, successful and patentable platform for the expression of high-value proteins in the seeds of economically important crops such as soybeans. This platform has the potential to be used for a wide variety of proteins of interest to a wide range of industries, such as pharmaceutical, cosmetics, diagnostic reagents and other food sectors‘ (Amit Dhingra, Moolec, Chief Science Officer).

Pig Sooy

4) Imagination and reality

Imagine a soy with pork protein inside (…) millions of tons of soy protein that feeds humans rather than animals, without compromising real taste and nutrition (…) a cruelty-free food ingredient that avoids farming and slaughter (…) saving animals, forests and trees, reducing the global carbon and water footprint (…) all this can happen because it is happening‘ (Moolec Science).

Reality it therefore surpasses imagination, in a global scenario where genetic engineering proves capable of bringing together the plant and animal kingdoms without paying attention to any bioethical considerations, nor to the possible impacts on the environment and biodiversity, human and environmental health and well-being.

GMO foods, indulges Moolec Science on its website, ‘they are among the most tested products in history. The process must include rigorous assessments of potential risks to humans, animals,. The opposite is quite true, when we consider that:

– in just one year 45.000 new GMOs (GE, Gene editing) were approved in the U.S., (8)

– European institutions are negotiating a ‘rapid risk assessment’ for the most complex NGTs (New Genomic Techniques). (9)

9) Provisional conclusions

The deliberate entry in the GMO environment in question is not without risks, given the concrete risk of accidental contamination of non-GMO plants, including spontaneous ones. Their ‘off-target’ effects and long-term interactions with complex biological systems are not predictable and deserve specific risk assessments which are still lacking.

The ‘deregulation’ it is an unacceptable risk.

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. New GMOs, member states hesitate on deregulationGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.11.23

(2) Dario Dongo. GMO HB4 wheat conquers the worldGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 29.12.23

(3) Moolec Science https://moolecscience.com

(4) Moolec Science. Investors presentation, December 2022 http://tinyurl.com/3vkxpa57

(5) Moolec Science Presents “Piggy Sooy”, A Soybean Platform That Can Produce Significantly High Amounts Of Pork Proteins

(6) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Impossible Burger with GMO vegetable bloodGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.1.19

(7) Leonardo Paradisi, Balaji Vasudevan. Unlocking the Potential of Plant Molecular Farming. Forward fooding. 6.2.23 http://tinyurl.com/ykeh7ty4

(8) Dario Dongo. USA, 45 thousand new GMOs a year out of control. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 8.7.19

(9) Dario Dongo. NGTs, new GMOs. Scientists and ANSES expose the risks of deregulation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.12.23

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.