In a gleaming laboratory hidden from the highway by a Hampton Inn and a Denny’s restaurant, a researcher with the biotech firm Calyxt works the controls of a boxy robot.

The robot whirs like an arcade claw machine, dropping blips of DNA into tubes with pipettes. It’s building an enzyme that rewrites DNA — and transforming food and agriculture in the process.

A researcher holds a canola sample at the headquarters of Calyxt in Roseville, Minn., on July 12.
Thanks to a cutting-edge technology called gene editing, scientists can now turn plant genes “on” and “off” almost as easily as Calyxt scientists flip a switch to illuminate the rows of tender soybean plants growing in their lab.