- A few weeks ago, Stefan Jansson, a Swedish plant biologist, sat down to a plate of pasta with cabbage harvested from his garden. This cabbage was like none any human had eaten before; its DNA had been edited via a much-hyped new gene-editing technique called CRISPR. Jansson’s meal was the first time anyone anywhere had professed to eating CRISPR-modified food—an entirely new category of GMOs.
But far from being some bizarre “frankenfood,” the cabbage looked almost exactly the same as unedited cabbage. Scientists had deleted only a single gene, which made it grow a little slower.
What might be confusing though is that Jansson’s cabbage, Brassica oleracea, did not look like or taste like cabbage—and it had not looked liked or tasted like cabbage even before scientists took CRISPR to its DNA. “It tastes like broccoli,” says Jansson, “and the leaves look like broccoli’s.” And that’s because humans have been breeding the species B. oleracea for centuries, and this single species now comprises dozens of varieties more commonly known as kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, collard greens, savoy cabbage, etc. They all descend from wild cabbage, and they technically all belong to one species. The exact variety Jansson grew is not farmed, so he called it “cabbage” out of convenience.