Food scientists from the Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology Company have successfully created gene-edited soybeans with higher levels of oleic acid.
Oleic acid is a mono-unsaturated omega-9 fat with numerous health benefits, including helping lower cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular disease.
The breakthrough is part of Beijing’s ongoing battle to improve food security and feed its immense population.
The gene-edited soybeans received a five-year safety certificate ending in April 2026, according to a document published by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Approval for Shunfeng’s super soybeans comes in a timely manner for China, as one of the country’s major grain suppliers, Ukraine, has entered its second year of war and access to its several ports in the Black Sea has been inconsistent at the best of times and non-existent at the worst.
The growing middle class is also struggling with an uptick in diet-related diseases as urban dwellers tend to be sedentary and diets are often nutrient-poor.
Gene editing alters existing genetic material by deleting or replacing DNA sequences, typically to improve some characteristic of the animal or crop, like its resistance to disease, water requirements, yield or nutritional value.
The technology is regarded as less risky than genetic modification, which involves the introduction of DNA foreign to the subject.
Speaking with Reuters, Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology said the approval of its novel soy crop was a shot in the arm for the company. The firm claims to be the first company in China to bring gene-edited crops to the mainstream since Beijing published new guidelines on gene-editing technology in early 2022.
According to Shunfeng representatives, it is researching roughly 20 other gene-edited crops, including high-yield rice, corn and wheat, herbicide-resistant soybeans and rice, and vitamin-C-rich lettuce.
Other countries, including the US and Great Britain, have put in measures to commercialise gene-edited foods.
Minnesota-based food technology firm, Calyxt received approval for the first gene-edited soybeans in the US in 2019, while Great Britain legalised the commercial production of gene-edited food in March of this year.
In 2021, Japanese officials approved the sale of two gene-edited fish species, the tiger puffer and the red sea bream.
The Kyoto-based start-up responsible for the fish used editing technology to each fish’s myostatin, a protein that limits the accumulation of muscle tissue in animals. The resulting product was a fish with up to 60% more edible material.