Pairwise will blend CRISPR gene-editing technology with germplasm of existing berries to create new varieties. Plant Sciences, Inc. (PSI), a berry breeder and ag research company in California, will be Pairwise’s germplasm provider.
by Kelly Duffort, North Carolina Biotechnology Center
As a result of this fruitful partnership, consumers could see new varieties of black raspberries, red raspberries and blackberries in the supermarket’s produce aisle within a few years.
Together, Pairwise and PSI aim to improve berries’ taste and convenience while also increasing their shelf life and off-season availability.
PSI will use its commercial nurseries to initially grow the new crop plantlets. Pairwise and PSI ultimately will license farmers to plant, grow and produce the new berries.
“At Pairwise, we want to make healthy eating easier,” said the company’s CEO Tom Adams, Ph.D. “Now, more than ever, people are focused on their food options and looking for ways to make healthy choices at home. Through the collaboration with PSI, we are moving from science partnerships to product partnerships that will bring new berries to market.”
Gene editing and berry (trait) picking
With CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) gene-editing technology, Pairwise will modify the DNA sequences of berry germplasm supplied by PSI. Pairwise will “pick” (or retain) good traits and dispose of less desirable traits to cultivate new berry variations.
Pairwise has licensing agreements with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for the CRISPR gene-editing technology that makes its berry breeding possible. Pairwise has the exclusive license to specific MGH CRISPR technology for developing agricultural applications.
In a previous interview with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Adams explained genomics and data science enable the company to breed the best berry. It is not developing genetically modified, or GMO, berries, which could include adding genes from different organisms.
“We really have a mission to drive up consumption of fruits and vegetables through improvements of the crops and making them more available to people,” said Adams.
For example, black raspberries have a limited growing season and are not widely available to American consumers. They naturally have five times more antioxidants than blueberries. With genetic modification, black raspberries could grow year-round and become much more available.
The Pairwise/PSI collaboration builds on a unique public/private partnership Pairwise and PSI previously established with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several leading academic institutions to identify diverse, novel types of berries that are not broadly bred for commercial sale today.
Pairwise is one of the Triangle area’s fast-growing agriculture and food biotech companies. Founded in 2018, Pairwise credits the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for being a supportive partner during its startup days.
Now the company is garnering national attention. It’s even featured in a new documentary from CNBC Digital, “How Scientists Create New Fruits & Vegetables,” in which Chief Business Officer Haven Baker is featured in some of the interview segments.