RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Pairwise, one of the Triangle area’s fast-growing agriculture and food biotech companies, has licensed some advanced CRISPR genome editing technologies from two prestigious Boston institutions to expand its crop-editing applications and bring new foods to market.

Pairwise, which operates a site in Durham’s Golden Belt and greenhouses in Research Triangle Park, has entered into licensing agreements with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (Broad Institute) for their latest CRISPR genome editing technologies.


The CRISPR system (Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a technology that allows researchers to cut DNA specifically and affordably. It allows scientists to make repairs, make a cut and patch two strands of DNA, and knock out or insert genes.

Pairwise has the exclusive license to specific MGH CRISPR technology for developing agricultural applications.

“Genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR have tremendous innovation potential in agriculture, but there have been limitations on its useful application to certain target areas,” said Aaron Hummel, Ph.D., head of genome editing technologies for Pairwise, in the licensing announcement.

Improving access to healthy and sustainable food

“Building on our existing capabilities, access to these optimized CRISPR enzymes will allow us to overcome some of the major challenges we see in food and agriculture. Ultimately, these technologies will enable us to improve consumer access to healthy and sustainable food.”

J. Keith Joung, M.D., professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, Desmond and Ann Heathwood MGH Research Scholar, and a co-founder of Pairwise added, “The high-fidelity and enhanced CRISPR enzymes with improved target recognition capabilities that we have developed for medical uses also have the potential to increase gene editing efficiencies and could ultimately increase the pace of innovation in agriculture.”

NCSU ‘CRISPR’ pioneer to spell out gene editing for public

The agreement with the Broad Institute gives Pairwise a license to the Cas9 and Cas12 (including both Cas12a/Cpf1 and Cas12b/C2c1) patent portfolios for use in plants and agriculture. The Broad Institute licenses are non-exclusive and adhere to the Institutes’s ethical restrictions for agricultural use, which prohibit using CRISPR for gene drive, sterile seeds, or tobacco products for human use.

“Our goal is to maximize the scientific impact of CRISPR-Cas9 for improving agriculture, and our nonexclusive licensing agreements offer the opportunity to provide wide access to help researchers reduce food waste, limit pesticides, and improve drought resistance, while promoting safe and ethical uses of groundbreaking technologies,” said Issi Rozen, chief business officer of the Broad Institute.

Tom Adams

“Pairwise is committed to working with a wide array of food and agriculture companies spanning row and specialty crops, fruits and vegetables to make these critical tools accessible as we all work to tackle the challenges facing our food system,” said Pairwise CEO Tom Adams, Ph.D.

In a previous interview with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Adams explained that advanced CRISPR technologies can target a specific sequence of RNA or DNA in a genome of 20 million bases. It can find a specific 20 bases and cut it. “It’s as if you went to find a house from everyone in North America and find it based just on its description, without an address.”

He added, “Coupled with genomics and data science, we can change breeding from a process where we cross two things and follow random assortment, then select outcomes, to where we can predetermine outcomes. We’re going to see more variety in crops than we have in the last 10,000 years.”

In addition to its work on row crops, he said the company is looking at healthy snackable foods consumers can choose over potato chips, developing traits such as seedless varieties and enhanced shelf life of fruits, berries and vegetables.

Adams also noted that NCBiotech was helpful in establishing the company “from the beginning. I don’t know of anything else like it in any of the other communities we looked at,” he said.

Since announcing the company’s formation in March 2018, Pairwise has grown to include more than 60 employees. The company anticipates hiring an additional 30 to 40 employees in 2019.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center

Ag, food tech innovator Pairwise establishes headquarters in Durham