Puffer fish, chile peppers, and mustard all are traditional foods that humans have learned to consume in moderation to minimize adverse health effects. But what about foods entirely new to the human digestive tract? Although some have designated (GE) foods as completely novel, the GE varieties currently approved and on the market are of the same composition as other foods. Corn oil, for example, is chemically identical regardless of the breeding method used to develop the corn variety.
In recent history, the closest example of a new food might be kiwi fruit. Originally it was an edible but unpalatable plant producing small, hard berries in China. Breeders in New Zealand developed what we know now as kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa) into a food during the twentieth century, and commercialized in the United States during the 1960s. There does not, however, appear to be any official record of a premarket safety analysis of the fruit. As a consequence, some humans who were not previously exposed to kiwi fruit developed allergic reactions. Recently, well after commercial release, the responsible allergenic protein (actinidin) was isolated and characterized (Pastorello et al., 1998).
likely to turn green than light-skinned varieties, but in either case environment seems to be more important to solanine production than genetics.
Certain potato lines have been found to express greater disease- or pest-resistance, and they have been selected as superior, not always with favorable or intended results. The most notorious such selection was the Lenape potato, which was developed using conventional breeding methods (Akeley et al., 1968). After a successful commercial launch, it was found to have dangerously elevated solanine content in the tubers and was removed from the market (Zitnak and Johnston, 1970). More recently, a similar high-solanine potato variety was detected and withdrawn from the market in Sweden (Hellanäs et al., 1995). In this case, the potato was a heritage variety, developed in the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century, but superseded by another variety due to its susceptibility to disease (Kuiper, 2003). Nevertheless, it became popular in Sweden under the name “Magnum Bonum,” until its predilection for overexpressing solanine resulted in its commercial demise (Hellanäs et al., 1995).
In spite of occasional problems with the consumption of potato glycoalkaloids, conventional breeders continue to increase the glycoalkaloid content in the leaves to take advantage of its pest- and pathogen-deterrent properties. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends, but does not require, a limit for glycoalkaloid content in new potato varieties (Sinden and Webb, 1972).