The Deficiency You Didn’t Know You Had

In collaboration with Eason Wu, Laura Duffley, Nicolas Gatien, and Henrik Neuspiel

Kimberly Liang
15 min readApr 30, 2021


Billions of people around the world lack the nutrients they need to function at their body’s full capacity, “But that couldn’t be me, right?” Chances are, you are also nutritionally deficient. In fact, 92% of Americans are not meeting the daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals. Even if you are eating enough calories or food, you can still be nutritionally deficient.

Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash

The foods we are eating right now are not satisfying the nutrients our bodies need, even if our bodies are not currently showing the signs. Most people don’t even know they are nutritionally deficient! However, it is still responsible for 20% of maternal mortalities and 45% of child deaths around the world. This is 8x the rate of cancer, but no one is doing anything to stop it!

This is why we created NutriX. A project that will allow people to live their best lives and skyrocket their health. We have the ability to revolutionize the entire food industry along with the potential to end nutritional deficiencies forever.


At NutriX our vision is to create a world where no one is nutritionally deficient. We want to revolutionize the entire agriculture industry by using gene editing to fulfill your daily needs of vitamins in the staple crops that everyone already loves to eat.

The crops that we will be focusing on are rice, wheat, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. We will be starting off with sweet potatoes as our initial product as they are extremely easy to grow, are optimal for gene editing, and easily scalable.

What is Gene Editing?

Gene editing is the method that lets people change the DNA of organisms. Editing DNA can change almost everything, in the case of our project, we will be gene-editing specific genes related to the production of select nutrients.

To do the editing, we are using Prime editing. Prime editing is used as a search and replacement genome editing technology. Here’s how it works:

  1. Writes new genetic information
  2. Uses parts of a Cas9 endonuclease and a pegRNA to target the given site
  3. Replaces the targeted DNA nucleotides
Diagram on how Prime Editing can manipulate genes

Prime editing is an upcoming and new form of gene editing. We use prime editing over traditional CRISPR Cas9 because prime editing is much better at reducing off-target effects, something extremely important for the safety of consumable products. Prime editing is also extremely advantageous as it is optimal for making multiple changes and modifying many attributes, something we will be doing to the crops.

It edits the genome with minimal invasion and can correct specific nucleotides with a higher level of efficiency and precision while mitigating negative effects. We chose prime editing as opposed to other gene editing tools because it allows for targeted edits without producing double-stranded DNA breaks. Furthermore, donor DNA templates (or in our case the desired protein samples) are not needed to achieve targeted insertions.

In order to overexpress the gene of our desired nutrients, we will only need to edit the bases and this is possible with all twelve combination swaps allowing for more flexibility in the development stages of our idea. Other editing tools also decrease the chances of mixing together the changes and increase the precision of the individual edits.

Our process will begin with binding the pegRNA complex to the target DNA and cut one strand of the DNA using a Cas9 nickase. Next, we will reverse the transcription of the RNA to be incorporated with the desired sequence into our target DNA. Once the edited strand has been incorporated, the initial DNA will be cleaved by cellular endonuclease. Finally, the strand that is not edited will be repaired and subsequently match with the newly edited sequence.

What Are We Editing?

Vitamin C:

Photo by Vedrana Filipović on Unsplash

Vitamin C, (Ascorbic Acid) has multiple functions in the body, mostly centered around healing the body and protecting it. It helps to protect, and keep cells healthy, maintaining healthy bones, blood vessels, cartilage & skin, and it helps to rapidly heal wounds.

Being deficient in Vitamin C can lead to weak bones, swollen joints, rough skin, tooth loss, poor immunity, and chronic inflammation. Obviously, not good.

Due to sweet potatoes, already having Vitamin C in them (3.1 mg), we will be using epigenome editing (a more targeted approach that still uses CRIPR Prime) to amplify the amount found. Genetically modifying crops to contain more Vitamin C has been done before, but on a small scale. By using similar processes used in previous studies, we will be able to quickly identify and modify the genes involved in the production of Vitamin C.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the world. Globally, approximately 1 billion people have insufficient levels of the vitamin. In the United States, over 42% of people have a vitamin D deficiency, and this number increases to 69.2% within Hispanic demographics and 82.% within African-American demographics.

Vitamin D is also very accessible in the context of genetic modification because, in contrast to many other vitamins, its functionality is similar to that of a hormone in that each cell in your body has receptors for it. The vitamin D in your body is formed from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Although one would think that vitamin D is common and rather easy to intake, it is actually difficult to retain from just one’s diet.

Vitamin D is also well known for its effect on bone development, especially in children. It supports a process called bone mineralization by controlling calcium homeostasis.

To edit the crop to have increased amounts of vitamin D, we will use CRISPR Prime to transfect the desired cell with an enzyme complex that contains the guide molecule and the DNA of the desired molecule (vitamin D). Next, the specially designed synthetic guide molecule will locate the target DNA strand and an enzyme will cut off the target DNA strand. Finally, the DNA strand is replaced with our desired gene.

Vitamin E:

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant in the body and protects it from the danger, and damages of free radicals.

The average adult needs ~15 mg/day, but most people are deficient to some degree. It can result in nerve damage, which can lead to loss of feeling throughout your body, muscle weakness, vision problems, and more.

Vitamin E can only be produced in plants, this doing with the fact that they are synthesized in the chlorophyll, used in both the process of photosynthesis and creating the green pigment for plants.

Currently, there are ~120 genes associated with the production of vitamin E, but the main one we need to focus on the TTPA gene, whose role is to provide instructions on how to make the α-tocopherol transfer protein (αTTP). This protein controls the level of vitamin D.

We would go in using CRISPR prime to genetically modify the TTPA gene so that it could then produce more of the αTT protein, which will then synthesize more vitamin E.


Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Your entire body is supported by calcium. Calcium makes up your bones, and your teeth, but is essential for your muscles to move, and for your nerves to carry out signals from all across your body.

Even though calcium is such a vital nutrient, a study published in 2015 showed that 3,500,000,000 people who are at risk of being calcium deficient.

Calcium is found throughout the earth, but the majority is found in the ground. Furthermore, each plant has what’s called a xylem. This xylem is found in the root system and is responsible for pulling nutrients & water from the soil, up to the rest of the plant.

Normally, when you’re growing a plant, there should be about 70–80% calcium saturation level in the soil. What this study found is that the xylem plants are anywhere between 12–80% efficient at pulling all of those nutrients out, and water from the soils. Though, the majority of the time, the xylem is about 50% efficient.

We would use CRISPR prime as explained previously to genetically modify the xylem for it to intake more calcium.


Magnesium is a mineral that’s involved in over 600 reactions in your body. It influences energy creation, muscle movements, nervous system regulation, gene maintenance, and protein formation. Even though Magnesium has a major influence on all of these functions, 75% of Americans aren’t getting the amount they need.

Magnesium deficiencies have very severe symptoms. It ranges from intense cramps everywhere in your body to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. By editing crops’ epigenomes using CRISPR Prime (in the process mentioned previously) we can amplify the amount of magnesium found in them.


Photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

Potassium is a key nutrient. A study conducted in 2013 found that 98% of Americans suffer from a potassium deficiency. Not having enough of the mineral and electrolyte in one’s diet has been shown to drastically increase chances of high blood pressure, poor gut health, and weakness of muscles.

But this deficiency cannot be solved by only a natural diet. A study from 1997 found that an increase of potassium intake by approximately 1.8–1.9g showed to lower the blood pressure of hypertensive subjects in such a manner that the average fall in systolic blood pressure was about 4mmHg and in diastolic pressure, approximately 2.5mmHg. However, this was not sufficient enough to raise the potassium intake in the United States to the current recommended level of 4.7 g per day.

To edit the sweet potato to have increased amounts of potassium, we will use CRISPR Prime to transfect the desired cell with an enzyme complex that contains the guide molecule and the DNA of the desired protein (potassium). Next, the specially designed synthetic guide molecule will locate the target DNA strand and an enzyme will cut off the target DNA strand. Finally, the DNA strand is replaced with our desired gene.

Water Usage

Currently, 90% of the water used in the United States is for agriculture and farm irrigation, being one of the largest consumers of freshwater, accounting for over 32 times more freshwater withdrawals than domestic usages.

Because our edits provide targeted enhancements to the characteristics of the plant, water usage will be much more efficient. In 2018, researchers found that when the expression of a certain gene in tobacco was altered, 25% less water was used.

During the process of photosynthesis, the stomata open to absorb carbon dioxide, but during this process the pores of the stomata open and excrete water. When certain proteins were overexpressed using CRISPR Prime, the plant acted as though it was dark out in that it closed its pores more efficiently. This will allow farmers to save over 100,000 USD every single year, making our crop seeds economically incentivized.

Safety & Regulation:

The US loosely regulates gene-edited crops and food with three different agencies (USDA, FDA, and EPA), each with separate regulations related to genetically engineered organisms. The USDA conducts a mandatory review of genetically modified plants to assess whether or not they will impact the environment and will be safe to grow. The EPA will then review the plants to assess whether or not they will impact the environment. Especially since our crops will require less water and will be easier to grow in rough environments, this step will likely take a decent amount of time. Finally, the FDA will assess if our GM sweet potatoes are safe to eat through their Plant Biotechnology Consultation Program.

Starting in January 2022, certain types of GMOs will require a disclosure that lets you know if the food you are eating (or ingredients in the food you are eating) is a bioengineered food. Our crops will have to include information on our packaging using one of the approved methods: text on the package that says “bioengineered food,” the bioengineered food symbol, or directions for using your phone to find the disclosure.

To comply with the regulatory guidelines, we will carefully evaluate product safety, verifying that the new GMO product doesn’t contain any allergens, and has no effect on surrounding organisms like beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife. It remains our responsibility to assure that products placed on the market are safe for use and consumption. We will make sure that our crops are completely safe by conducting multiple tests, consumer trials, and procedures.

How Will This Be Economically Incentivized?

Selling Seeds & Splits To Farmers

Photo by Lukas Langrock on Unsplash

We will be selling the seeds & splits of crops to farmers. Initially, we will grow them in North Carolina, where the majority of America’s sweet potatoes are produced. Farmers have to rebuy seeds and splits for the majority of their crops, including sweet potato splits, meaning there is a product-market fit.

We will be selling the sweet potato splits for the same price as regular splits, yet we hold the advantage of saving the average farmer more than 100,000 USD a year on water and also it being much more nutritious, giving farmers a better selling position.

How Will We Make Money?

With our genetically modified sweet potatoes, it will cost $4078 per acre to grow them. We will make $5769 in revenue (41% profit margins) for a profit of $1691 an acre.

We will have 10,000 acres of land and sell 90% of the splits yearly (leaving 10% for us to regrow), earning us $51,921,000 of yearly revenue.

Keep in mind, this is only after the first 7 years of NutriX. After this, we will be expanding and scaling to new regions and also more crops. By 2040 we should be making tens of billions of dollars or even hundreds of billions in revenue.

The wheat industry is currently worth 332 billion dollars. The corn industry is worth 267 billion dollars. The potato industry is worth 60 billion dollars. By the time we penetrate the rice industry, it will be worth 274 billion dollars. All of these markets are large opportunities for NutriX to pursue in the long term.


Phase 1: Research & Development

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

We will spend 1–2 months identifying the specific genes that we need to edit in the sweet potato with our team of genetic engineers.

After scientists find the gene with the desired trait, they can copy that gene or repress other genes to get the desired traits in the sweet potato. Our team of scientists will use CRISPR Prime to insert the gene into the DNA of the plant. In the laboratory, scientists will grow the new sweet potato plant to ensure it has adopted the desired trait. The average time that it takes to complete one gene edit is 16.5 weeks. Since we have multiple edits to make simultaneously, we estimate that it will take around a few years to account for the off-target effects and tests that we have to do to ensure that our sweet potato plant is safe for consumption.

It will then take around 10 months for GMO plants to go through in-depth review and tests before they are ready to be sold to farmers. Our technology must be approved by the regulatory frameworks in the United States (FDA, USDA, and EPA).

The entire process of creating a GMO plant through research and development will take around 2 years. We will be creating 90 original gene-edited sweet potatoes.

Phase 2: Sweet Potato

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

From year 2 to year 7, we will be scaling our first product, the gene-edited sweet potato, in America. Because of the nature of sweet potato reproduction cycles, we can 10x the number of sweet potatoes we have in 157 days in the greenhouse or 1 year in the fields.

In the greenhouse, we can grow the sweet potatoes regardless of temperature, allowing us to have 2 reproduction cycles in one year. After 4 reproduction cycles (2 years) in the greenhouses, we reach its max capacity and now have 900k sweet potatoes. 3 more reproduction cycles later (3 years) we will reach a max capacity of the land and have 900M potatoes, capable of selling 3.6B splits.

7 reproduction cycles = 10,000,000x more sweet potatoes

After this, we can start to sell the sweet potatoes, generating $51,921,000 of yearly revenue. Starting in year 7, we will have captured the majority of the American sweet potato splits market.

From year 7–10 we will be expanding to more countries, like China, which produces 90% of the world’s sweet potatoes. Because we are already generating millions of dollars and producing hundreds of millions of potatoes, we will be able to dominate the Chinese sweet potato market relatively quickly. This will also allow us to generate hundreds of millions of additional dollars in revenue.

Phase 3: Mass Scaling

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

This is where we expand to crops like rice, which feeds 3.5 billion people, wheat, which feeds 2.5 billion people, corn, which feeds 900 million people in Africa alone, and potatoes, which feed 1 billion people.

The process will be extremely similar to the breakthrough in sweet potatoes. From years 7–9, we should have original gene-edited crops for these 4. From years 9–13, we will be scaling and mass-producing these crops. Finally, from years 13–20, we will start to sell to farmers, generating even more revenue, feeding the perpetual cycle of scaling.

Within 20 years, we should be able to dominate the largest staple crop markets around the world, impacting billions along the way by ending nutritional deficiencies.

Overall Costs:

In order to find the specific genes we need to edit in a sweet potato, we will be hiring a team of scientists. Strategic management researchers Annamaria Conti of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Christopher Lio of the University of Toronto in Canada conducted a study showing that the most optimized team of scientists would contain 5 Postdocs, 3 Graduate Students, and 2 Science Technicians.

This team would cost us 363,000 USD per year.

Once we have our team of scientists, working for the next 2 years to sequence a sweet potatoes genome, we need to make gene edits.

According to Synthego, the overall cost to edit all of the genes we want, will cost us roughly 55,000 USD to make our first sweet potato. After making the first one, we can produce more with only 20,000 USD.

We will have 90 original gene-edited potatoes, costing us $2,516,000 and 2 years of research.

Each acre of land will cost $4078 to grow, but we generate $1691 of profit per acre.

We will be able to easily pay off the initial start-up costs within 7 years and have millions of dollars to spare for scaling.

Key Takeaways:

  • Billions of people around the world are nutritionally deficient, and that probably includes you or someone you know
  • Here at NutriX, we want to revolutionize the agricultural industry and end nutritional deficiencies through gene-editing crops
  • We will be increasing the number of nutrients that people are most deficient in, such as Vitamin C, D, and E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium
  • By genetically editing crops to use 25% less water we will be able to save the average farmer 100,000 USD per year
  • Safety is our number one priority, we will ensure our product is safe by passing several federal tests
  • Our initial product will be selling sweet potato splits to farmers, generating 51,921,000 USD of yearly revenue
  • R&D will take 2 years, sweet potatoes will take 5 years to get on the market, 10 years to dominate the global sweet potato market, 13 to break into 4 more staple crops, and 20 to dominate the global market in staple crops, ending nutritional deficiencies

Final Thoughts

Here at NutriX, we believe that nutritional deficiencies should be a thing of the past. By revolutionizing the agricultural industry through gene-edited crops, we will be able to put a stop to this problem forever.

The team at NutriX would like to thank you for reading our article and supporting our cause.

To learn more about us feel free to visit our site or check our one-pager



Kimberly Liang

I’m a 16-year-old innovator with huge ambitions to change the world. I research emerging technologies and neoteric mindsets to maximize my impact.