Pairwise, a revolutionary gene-editing startup, is leveraging CRISPR technology to alter the genetic code of vegetables, enhancing their taste. The company is starting with mustard greens, a popular ‘superfood’ that is packed with antioxidants and B vitamins.

Many people strongly dislike mustard greens because they have a strong, bitter peppery taste when eaten raw. Pairwise is using the innovative CRISPR gene-editing technique to change the genes of the mustard greens to make them less bitter and thus more palatable.

Pairwise claims that their special mustard green salad blend ‘offers up to double the nutrition of romaine’ with significantly reduced bitterness. It is rolling out this blend slowly at select restaurants and other outlets in the Minneapolis, St. Louis regions.

What is CRISPR?

Cutting out a specific gene from a plant’s genome to make a phenotypic change still seems like magic to many.

CRISPR-Cas9 is not magic nor is it some huge machine or intricate puzzle artificially devised over years of research and trial and error. It’s a biological system that researchers stumbled upon in bacteria in 1987.

CRISPR-Cas9 is basically an immune system. CRISPR is a specific kind of DNA sequence that bacteria insert into the DNA of invading viruses. The sequence acts as a signal for the Cas9 protein to find in the viral DNA and cut out, effectively killing the virus and its offspring.

Though the CRISPR sequence was discovered in 1987, Cas9 wasn’t discovered until 2005. The final pieces of the puzzle to make CRISPR work for specific functions didn’t come for almost another decade.

Eventually, researchers figured out how to use it to cut a strand of DNA, insert pretty much any sequence they want into the DNA and then put it back together. This handy tool has changed the world of gene-editing forever.

Since then treatments for genetic disorders like sickle-cell anemia have been formulated and used to cure patients.

While gene-editing mustard greens might not seem crucial compared to other CRISPR applications, Pairwise contends otherwise and it has the stats to back it up.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the US, behind only tobacco use. Obesity-related diseases kill over 110,000 people every year in the US.

Part of this is because the healthiest foods are often not the tastiest. If gene-editing can make superfoods like mustard greens taste great, it could help droves of people lose weight and live better lives because of it.

While Pairwise’s CRISPR salad doesn’t directly address the pressing issues of high cost and low accessibility of healthy food, it may still benefit those who can afford it. Furthermore, as the technology advances and becomes more affordable, the price of gene-edited foods is likely to decrease.

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