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Splicing A Salad: Gene-Editing Your Produce

Posted December 05, 2023

Ray Blanco

By Ray Blanco

Splicing A Salad: Gene-Editing Your Produce

You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the use of gene-editing in the development of drugs designed to treat diseases and genetic disorders.

The most well known example is CRISPR, who has a treatment for sickle cell disease pending FDA approval by the end of this year.

What you are probably unaware of is that CRISPR has been used to genetically modify a product that is already on the market.


Conscious Greens, a type of mustard green from the North Carolina company Pairwise, has had the green’s signature pungency removed with CRISPR technology while retaining its high nutritional value. Conscious Greens is the first gene-edited food product to hit US markets.

Pairwise hopes that Conscious Greens will be a healthier alternative to vitamin-light options like iceberg, romaine, or butter lettuce. While currently only available in select restaurants in only a few cities, Conscious Greens looks to expand soon to grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest.

While making a certain kind of lettuce more appealing to a broader audience may sound like a small step forward that is a long way from solving world hunger, it serves as a very significant step in unlocking the potential of gene editing.

The most obvious use-case of gene editing fruits and vegetables is to improve their yield. Larger crops, resistance to pests and disease, easier propagation, and faster harvests would all go a long way towards easing food shortages. As well as the cost of produce at your local grocery store.

Beyond just creating more food, gene-editing could also “design” produce that would require less water. Creating an obvious benefit, particularly in farmlands that are vulnerable to droughts.

Outside of Pairwise, gene-editing is currently in use for several other potential benefits. Such as increasing the number of kernels on an ear of corn and making cacao trees that are more resistant to disease. 

There have even been gene-edited cattle. CRISPR-editing has been used to make cows be able to endure hotter temperatures by giving them shorter coats.

The Free Market Rules The Supermarket

The USDA has already decided that gene-edited produce does not qualify as a genetically modified organism (GMO), which have long been considered to be an unhealthier version of the more “natural” product.

Gene-editing only uses a plant’s own DNA to selectively emphasize positive traits while removing the negative. While GMOs introduce foreign genetic material, which could lead to unexpected allergic reactions and possibly increased resistance to antibiotics.

But with regulators already clearing Conscious Greens and future gene-edited food, that doesn’t mean there’s a clear path ahead for these modified foods.

Just because the USDA says you can consume something doesn’t mean that you should consume it. And even if you should, that doesn’t mean that you’ll want to. 

An animal’s liver is often the part of it that’s the most rich in nutrition, but it is also close to the least appealing to most consumers.

According to a 2022 study, there is still a wide-spread reluctance to consume food that is considered to be “edited”, with 75% of people wanting any editing to be represented on the food’s label. 

Christopher Cummings, who conducted the survey, said…

People want to know how their food is made. They don’t want to feel duped…The direct-to-consumer benefit has not manifested in many technological food products in the past 30 years. If gene-edited foods are really going to take off, they need to provide a clear and direct benefit to people that helps them financially or nutritionally.

While the market has yet to decide on the fate of Pairwise’s Conscious Greens, there has been an example outside of the US of a commercially released CRISPR-edited food. In 2021, the Tokyo company Sanatech Seeds released a genetically edited tomato with increased amounts of y-aminobutyric acid, which they claim helped relieve stress and lower blood pressure.

Japanese markets, with their famous inedible square watermelons, certainly don’t represent consumer sentiments in the United States or the rest of the world. So time will tell if CRISPR and other gene-editing technology can expand successfully beyond the medical field and into your kitchen.

With that, we’d like to hear your thoughts. Would you have an issue with eating genetically modified food? Are you more likely to eat edited fruits or vegetables than meat? Do you think it should require a label? Let us know about this, or anything at

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