Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

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More Gene-Edited Food Could Soon Be Coming to Store Shelves

Agricultural startup Pairwise Plants, which recently attracted a $100 million investment from seed giant Monsanto Co., is looking to take its genetic-modification tools to the produce aisle.

The company will use a technology called gene-editing to come up with new traits for row crops, such as corn and soybeans. They’re also interested in other foods that haven’t typically been genetically modified, like fruits and vegetables.

Genetic engineering has mostly been reserved for large commodity crops because regulatory testing costs so much. But gene-editing, which modifies a plant’s DNA directly without injecting foreign genes, isn’t regulated. Editing methods promise to be faster and cheaper, opening up the technique to foods that haven’t usually been modified, say strawberries or spinach.

Traits could directly benefit consumers, like making a certain vegetable healthier, or saving fruits threatened by diseases, said Haven Baker, chief business officer for Pairwise. The tool could allow for developing better sliced apples, or making heirloom tomatoes more robust and abundant, he said.

By creating foods that are “really beneficial to people, they’re much more likely to have a positive view of the technology,” said Tom Adams, who will join Pairwise on April 1 as chief executive officer, leaving a vice president role at Monsanto. There’s an “an opportunity to expand in a broader way into crops that can directly affect people’s lives,” Adams said.

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