Israeli startup BetterSeeds is licensing the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology from Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which earned its developers the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020, to help make agriculture an easier, more profitable, and safer activity.
“This very important scientific breakthrough will most likely change the world of medicine and agriculture in the short, medium, and long term. Eight years ago, we realized that agriculture was going to focus on the improvement of plants based on this technology. That's when we decided we would improve staple crops with CRISPR,” stated Ido Margalit, CEO and founder of BetterSeeds.
At the time, food technology was not a focal point for investors as it is today, so the company targeted the cannabis sector, which had many problems that could be solved with CRISPR. The previous incarnation of BetterSeeds - CanBreed - used gene-editing technology to produce stable and consistent hybrid hemp seeds for standardized medical-grade cannabis.
Currently, Margalit heads the Forum of Medical Cannabis Seeds at the Association of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which just got the government to approve the export of Israeli cannabis seeds.
According to Margalit, the improved cannabis strains from BetterSeeds will hit the market in Israel later this year.
Apples and Oranges
Going forward, Margalit would like to diversify into perennial crops, such as apple and citrus crops, which are not planted annually but for the long term. Gene-editing technology could help reduce the time these crops require to start yielding fruits decreasing investors' risks. In addition, Margalit said, gene editing could make perennial crops become seasonal crops.
This change would increase the versatility of farmers and the way they can use their land each year, making farming more profitable.
“It is a very significant vision. I believe we'll be able to change the first strains from perennial to seasonal crops in 2025 or 2026. We would have to adapt and adjust the CRISPR for each crop, and that is one of our challenges," he said.