With today being Valentine’s Day and February being American Heart Month, and today being Valentine’s Day, there’s no better time to explore how biotechnology has benefited one of mankind’s most vital organs, the heart.
Question: When was the first American Heart Month? (read to see answer below)
We often view the heart as a representation of love and joyfulness, but heart complications have plagued man for some time. According to the American Heart Association, in the 1960s more than half of the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease. Today, heart disease is still the leading cause of death with more than 17.9 million people succumbing to the disease each year. In the future, that number is only expected to go up.
So, where does biotechnology come into play? Well, as you probably are aware, one of the best nutrients to improve heart health is a type of fatty acid known as Omega-3. Omega-3s cannot be manufactured, so the best place to get them is through your diet. Using biotechnology, we can enhance Omega-3-rich foods to increase their availability and nutritional value.
Arguably one of the most popular oils at your local supermarket, canola oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Coupled with the fact that the oil is widely used, canola oil is a common source of Omega-3s for many. Therefore, the availability of the canola plant is critical. So, to increase supply of the crop, scientists modified the canola plant to carry a trait that makes it herbicide resistant. Before this intervention, the canola plant was highly susceptible to weeds. Farmers were forced to till the soil between yields to disrupt the growth of the weeds and protect the crops. By growing herbicide resistant canola, however, this tilling process in no longer necessary. This saves farmers both time and money and provides more time for the crop to reach its full yield potential, thus increasing crop yields and canola oil production. Because of biotechnology, canola oil is a food item that consumers can rely on to consume Omega-3s and improve heart health.
Found in many products such as milk, oils and proteins, soybean is another popular crop that already has high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Thanks to biotechnology, however, scientists were able to increase the amount of Omega-3s in the crop. In 2009, the FDA ruled that soybeans modified to contain increased levels of Omega-3s are safe for human consumption and, as a result, could start serving as a substitute for other sources of the essential fatty acid. Today, the crop is seen as a viable source of Omega-3s.
Researchers have already made progress on improving other sources of Omega-3s, such as meats and seafood, using biotechnology. One example is the salmon, a well-known source of Omega-3s. Through biotechnology, researchers have created the AquAdvantage salmon, which grows to market size faster than conventional salmon. Once this fish hits the market, the supply of the nutrient-rich fish will likely increase, resulting in another heart-healthy food that consumers can rely on.
With the rate of heart disease not slowing down, we’ll need to continue looking at ways to improve crops, like canola and soybean, and meats and seafood, like salmon, to ensure we maintain a steady supply of Omega-3-rich foods.
Answer: In December 1963, then-President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed February as American Heart Month. The following February (1964) marked the first recognition of American Heart Month, which has been recognized every year since.