1:34 min Read
The saying "a cheeseburger a day keeps the doctor away" doesn't exist - at least not yet.
But thanks to a recent gene-editing breakthrough from Israeli scientists, your topping-laden burger - whether beef, turkey, or veggie - could soon be made more nutritious.
Earlier this month, these scientists announced that they'd developed a variety of lettuce with higher concentrations of key nutrients like vitamin C and beta-carotene. In just 2 cups of this healthful lettuce - that's equivalent to a small salad - ruffage connoisseurs could meet their entire recommended daily intake of vitamin C.
Eating regular lettuce, it'd take eight times that amount.
How is this possible, you ask?
The secret is a unique technology called CRISPR-Cas, which uses an enzyme to make small genetic alterations to a given organism's genetic code. Akin to a biological "copy-paste" function, scientists can use CRISPR to rearrange a plant's genes to produce desired results.
In this case, the team at Hebrew University pinpointed the lettuce genes that code for nutritional content and slightly tweaked them so the plants would produce more.
Unlike many other technologies, gene-editing doesn't introduce any new genetic material. Instead, it uses the power of an organism's own DNA to make valued improvements. It's a process that could happen via natural mutation - but that would take thousands of years or more.
Of course, this advancement isn't just good news for the burger-lover or casual consumer of leafy greens. After all, roughly one-fifth of the global population lives on a strictly vegetarian diet. Finding ways to make all vegetables more nourishing - especially where food security is a problem - will bolster public health.
And while this may be the most recent gene-editing breakthrough of note, it's certainly not the only one. The new super-lettuce rests on years of successful research into how gene-editing might hold the key to making our foods more nourishing, nutritious, and sustainable.
In 2020, scientists in California announced that they'd employed gene-editing tools to develop a strain of rice - the world's most popular grain - with higher levels of carotenoid, a key component of vitamin A. And in 2018, researchers used CRISPR to produce tomatoes with five times the concentration of lycopene, an important antioxidant.
As gene-editing innovation continues to heat up, we're likely to see even more of these successes. Nutritive lettuce is just the latest example of a healthier future.