GMO vanilla in ice cream and other desserts



By Catherine Haug, Aug 19, 2014 (Image, right, used by permission from Organic Consumers Association

Vanilla is a wonderful flavor for baked goods, yogurt, puddings and frozen desserts like ice cream. Until recently, we had the choice of natural vanilla extract from the vanilla bean, or imitation vanilla (an industrial duplication of the vanillin component of the vanilla bean). But now there’s a third option – synbio vanilla – used in commercial products like ice cream , and is genetically engineered by a computer.

Haagen Dazs, one of the largest “natural” ice cream companies int he U.S., prides itself on natural vanilla, but it has not yet committed not to use synbio vanilla. Friends of the Earth have a petition to Haagen Dazs; if this interests you, see reference (1) below. To learn more about this new technology, read on.


This is a new GE technology that uses a computer to create the new organism, in this case, a yeast. In the past, Genetically engineered organisms (GMO) were created by inserting desired DNA sequence of one species into the DNA sequence of another species – for example:

corn’s DNA + DNA segment from Bt bacteria = Bt corn that produces Bt toxin against corn’s pests

This is a somewhat random method that requires much trial and error to create the desired species, and is thus costly.

All that is about to change, with the advent of “synthetic biology” – artificial gene synthesis by computer, of which synbio vanilla is just the tip of the iceberg. Now that the DNA sequence of many many species is known, a desired sequence can be input into a computer program to produce that sequence in a yeast cell that then replicates to produce the desired species. This technology is like 3-D printing at the DNA level.

The use of this technology can extend beyond food to medical applications. According to Wikipedia, “Gene synthesis has become an important tool in many fields of recombinant DNA technology including heterologous gene expression, vaccine development, gene therapy and molecular engineering.” (2)


  1. Peitiion to Haagen Dazs:
  2. Wikipedia on artificial gene synthesis (

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