TROPAG CONFERENCE 31 October – 2 November 2022 Brisbane, Australia
17 October 2022
Making fruit and vegetables better for a healthier population
Leafy greens that pack more nutritional punch and better flavour and seedless blackberries available year-round could soon be on supermarket shelves thanks to gene-editing tools.
US start-up Pairwise is using CRISPR technology to produce better fruits and vegetables and tackle the global health crisis linked to nutritional insecurity.
Dr Haven Baker, Pairwise chief business officer, is one of six plenary speakers at the 2022 TropAg International Conference in Brisbane where he will unveil the company’s inaugural product Conscious™ Greens – a nutrient-dense gene-edited whole food, due to hit the American market in 2023.
He will also explain how Pairwise uses CRISPR technology to deliver crops to help counter malnutrition among the population and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable global food system in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Baker said globally, 45 per cent of children aged five and younger are undernourished and diet-related disease was on the rise.
In the US, fewer than one in 10 people consume the recommended daily amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables and in many developed countries people eat half the amount of fresh produce they should.
Dr Baker said fruits and vegetables were not keeping up with the innovation in processed foods, and this was where CRISPR technology could help.
“There is the opportunity to adapt healthy food for our lifestyles by making it more convenient, with better flavour or longer shelf-life,” he said.
“Past experience shows that the market responds to innovation in fresh food.”
After baby carrots were released in the US, for example, consumption increased four-fold, while similar gains were seen when blueberries became available year-round.
Pairwise is also looking at crops with benefits for growers, such as a blackberry without thorns to aid picking.
CRISPR gene-editing technology allows researchers to target a specific part of the genome and make a small tweak to either ‘turn off’ a gene function or give the plant a new attribute.
“CRISPR technology is non-GMO because there’s no foreign DNA,” Dr Baker said.
“What we’re really doing is just speeding up natural plant breeding.”
He said in its Conscious Greens product, Pairwise used the CRISPR technology ‘turn off’ pungency and bitterness.
The release of the product within five years of the start-up’s first lab trials demonstrates the speed at which the technology can be applied to agriculture to improve crops.
Dr Baker said the technology could be used to tackle food insecurity caused by climate change, providing a mechanism to adapt crops to different growing conditions, or longer or shorter growing seasons.
“We can use CRISPR to grow more food using fewer resources, whether that’s water, chemical inputs or land,” he said.
“It’s all about growing more using less.”
Dr Baker said Pairwise research showed overwhelming consumer acceptance of the technology.
“People are really concerned about feeding the world in a changing climate, and they recognise that technology is going to be part of the answer.”
He said he hoped sharing the Pairwise experience would inspire others to progress crop innovation through CRISPR technology.
“We are at the beginning of an innovative cycle that will allow new products that are better for consumers, but also can adapt to stressors like climate change and drought.
“It’s very exciting.”
The conference is hosted by The University of Queensland in partnership with the Queensland Government via the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. TropAg is backed by generous sponsors, exhibitors and media partners. View the full list of supporters from the TropAg website.
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