Startup spotlight: Durham agtech firm could hold genetic key to better bananas & coffee

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Durham-based food technology startup Pairwise is going a little bit bananas…and coffee.

The company – which uses its CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing know-how to develop new varieties of fruits and vegetables – has agreed to grant access to its base editing technology to U.K.-headquartered Tropic Biosciences.

Tropic, as its name implies, focuses on improving big-acre tropical crops. It will use the technology to speed up plant breeding innovation in globally important coffee and banana harvests.

“As a mission-driven company, we believe it is imperative to forge alliances with other visionary companies who can extend our mission of building a healthier world,” said Ian Miller, chief development officer of Pairwise. “This deal with Tropic Biosciences is an important step in the development of new varieties of tropical crops upon which billions of consumers and tens of millions of smallholder farmers rely, and further demonstrates the ability of our platform technologies to solve problems across the plant-based economy.”

Tropic Chief Executive Officer Gilad Gershon said the agreement with Pairwise “will support our mission of bringing important innovation to regions and growers who would greatly benefit from better cultivation efficiencies and improved sustainable environmental practices.”


Pairwise – which says it is driven by the belief that healthy food should be consistently fresh, delicious and convenient – moved to North Carolina in 2018 with support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. It uses CRISPR to make genetic changes that improve the taste, convenience and shelf life of foods. In the field, the company says the technology can help increase yields, simplify harvesting and lengthen the seasonal availability of crops.

Pairwise currently is developing new varieties of leafy greens, berries and cherries for consumers in North America. The company said it brings together leaders in agriculture, technology and consumer foods to harness the potential of genomics to create innovative new products. It expects to launch the first in its pipeline this year.

Pairwise’s crop trait development platform is based on gene-editing technologies that were originally licensed from Harvard University. CEO Tom Adams and Chief Business Officer Haven Baker are the company’s founders. Scientific co-founders include J. Keith Joung, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School; David Liu, director of the Merkin Institute of Transformative Technologies in Healthcare and vice-chair of the faculty at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT; and Feng Zhang, McGovern Investigator and a professor at MIT.

Pairwise has raised $115 million in private funds. And it has a five-year, $100 million collaboration with the crop science division of pharmaceutical and life science giant Bayer to apply its gene editing technology to row crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, canola and cotton.

Pairwise is located on the Golden Belt campus in Durham also has a research site in Research Triangle Park. The company has about 130 employees.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center

Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire