Reengineering Life

A Startup Is ‘Editing’ Fruit and Veggies to Make Them Taste Better

Scientists are using gene editing to make healthy food more appealing

Emily Mullin
Published in
4 min readMay 19, 2020

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Photo illustration, source: ansonmiao/Getty Images

Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

You probably know that kale is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients and that you should be eating more of it. But it’s also bitter and fibrous, which might make you reach for less healthy greens at the grocery store instead.

A food tech startup called Pairwise Plants wants to change that. The company, based in Durham, North Carolina, and backed by a $125 million investment from agricultural giant Monsanto (now part of Bayer), is using the gene-editing tool CRISPR in an attempt to make nutritious but less popular fruits and vegetables like kale more appealing to the average shopper. Pairwise is also working on improving a number of large-scale staple crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, canola, and cotton.

CRISPR has been imagined as a way to end world hunger by producing better harvests and fortifying crops against disease and climate change. That vision hasn’t yet materialized, but in the shorter term, we could see new CRISPR-edited produce varieties at the grocery store.

As part of this effort, Pairwise has started editing mustard greens, a peppery relative of kale and cabbage in the Brassica family high in many essential vitamins and minerals. Mustard greens are often used in Chinese, Japanese, and Indian dishes. Along with collard greens, they’re also cooked in the American South with ham or bacon fat, onion, and other seasonings. When cooked in these dishes, they taste a lot…

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Emily Mullin
OneZero

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.