Pairwise, a startup based in Durham, North Carolina, has launched its first CRISPR-developed product in the US: Conscious Greens. Touted as a mix of superfood leafy greens, the product claims to offer twice the nutrition of traditional romaine lettuce and comes with an appealing fresh flavor.
This product is notable because the company claims it’s the first food product in the US that was developed using CRISPR technology.
Conscious Greens is the first offering from Pairwise’s new brand, Conscious Foods. Conscious Greens are field-grown superfood greens that are as versatile as lettuce and a great addition to salads. Originating from mustard greens, Conscious Greens belong to the same family as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale.
Pairwise teamed up with Performance Food Group (PFG) to co-brand its Purple Power Baby Greens Blend under PFG’s Peak Fresh Produce premium brand. Available in select restaurants and outlets of the PFG operator network, these greens can be found in the Minneapolis–St. Paul region, St. Louis and Springfield, Massachusetts.
How Pairwise Leverages CRISPR Technology
CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene-editing technique that can be used to alter the DNA of cells to enhance certain characteristics or reduce less desirable ones. In this case, Pairwise used CRISPR to address the issue that most lettuces lack nutritional value, and many other greens are too bitter or hard to eat.
By leveraging CRISPR technology, Pairwise created new types of nutritious greens, making them more attractive to consumers and accomplishing what the age-old practice of crossbreeding does, but in a significantly shorter amount of time.
Notably, Conscious Greens don’t qualify as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the traditional sense. In the realm of agriculture, GMOs are typically created by introducing genetic material from a completely different species, resulting in crops that could not be produced through the usual process of selective breeding (where parent plants with specific attributes are chosen to yield offspring with more favorable traits).Conversely, the CRISPR technique used by Pairwise manipulates an organism’s own genes without introducing any foreign DNA.
One of the key advantages of CRISPR is its efficiency in developing new plant varieties. In the case of Pairwise, it took them only four years to bring Conscious Greens to market, while conventional crossbreeding methods can take a decade or more to yield desired characteristics.
All Conscious Foods products undergo US Department of Agriculture (USDA) review before they hit the market, and they meet all US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state food safety laws and regulations.
Other Food Companies Using CRISPR
While Pairwise appears to be the first food company to introduce a CRISPR-based food product, there are several other companies that are leveraging the technology to bring new products to market.
For example, Inari Agriculture uses CRISPR to develop customized seeds to fit local conditions, such as humidity, day and night temperatures and the soil type of a farm. The company’s technology has been tested in the lab and is currently in greenhouse testing. Inari Agriculture is currently working to produce customized soybean, corn and wheat as its first targets.
Back in 2016, agrochemical company Monsanto acquired the first commercial license of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology from the Broad Institute, making it one of the first companies to use the technology for agricultural purposes. And chemical company DuPont has been working with Caribou Biosciences since 2015 and is already growing CRISPR-edited corn and wheat plants in field trials.
As for Conscious Foods, Conscious Greens will be shipped to US grocery stores later this year. Pairwise is also in the process of developing new types of berries, cherries and other produce under the Conscious Foods brand. In February 2021, Pairwise secured $90 million in a series B funding round, which brought its total fundraising to $115 million. The company has grown to over 150 employees in five years and anticipates more growth as it enters the foodservice and retail channels.