Overripe bananas could soon become a mere memory – at least in the Philippines.
Tropic Biosciences, a UK startup, has harnessed gene editing to banish fruit browning – and mitigate the mess it wreaks.
Currently, over 60% of exported bananas are wasted before they reach consumers. According to Tropic, the non-tanning version could reduce food waste and carbon emissions in supply chains by over 25%. In terms of CO2 reduction, the impact is comparable to removing 2 million passenger cars per year.
For the Philippines, there is a more urgent appeal. The country is the largest banana producer and exporter in Southeast Asia but is plagued by a devastating plant disease. The disease known as Panama TR4 threatens 80% of the world’s banana production – and there is no cure.
Tropic may have a solution: genetically engineering bananas to make them disease-resistant. Not surprisingly, the Philippine government has welcomed the prospect.
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In a press release last month, Tropic announced that Philippine authorities had given the green light to the non-brownable bananas. According to the country’s newly defined gene editing rules, the product can now be freely imported and propagated.
“The Philippine government has established a scientifically sound, transparent and efficient process for evaluating the safety of genetically modified crops,” said Dr. Ofir Meir, Tropic’s Chief Technology Officer.
“It’s exactly the kind of system that encourages companies like Tropic to invest in innovative technologies to create sustainable solutions for Filipino farmers.”
Previously, Meir served as R&D director of the crop protection division of Evogene, a computational biology company based in Israel.
For Tropic, bananas are just the beginning. Using gene editing tools such as CRISPR and the proprietary GEiGS system, the company can alter the DNA of multiple organisms. In addition to delaying ripening in bananas, the startup has already reduced caffeine in coffee and increased yield in rice.
The benefits could be enormous. Tropic promises higher production, longer shelf life, improved disease resistance, less waste and reduced CO2 emissions. The company says it can also reduce costs for growers.
Investors have clearly recognized the potential. Last year, Tropic raised $35 million in a new round of funding. The cash injection followed a $28.5 million Series B increase in June 2020.
Of course, this luxury isn’t just due to altruism. blue horizonwhich led the round last year estimates that the The total market for Tropic products is worth over US$400 billion.