2-Plants: Salt-resistant GE crops licensed to U.S. company Seaphire
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Firm creating salt-resistant crops
SOURCE: The Arizona Republic, USA, by Kerry Fehr-Snyder
DATE: July 15, 2002
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Dear GENET-news readers,
you might remember the messages about so called salt-resistant tomatoes
developed by U.S. researcher Eduardo Blumwald of the University of
California and his team that should enable farmers to grow tomatoes (and
hopefully other plants) on soils that has been degraded by unsustainable
farming practices, eg. wrong irrigation methods. Recent messages gave a
clearer picture about the likely future developments in this field: the
technology has been licenced to the company Seaphire which ultimate goal is
to develop agricultural systems suitable for growing halophytic plants
under irrigation with seawater in arid costal regions. Those practices will
certainly leave us with more degraded soils. All that sounds quite
different from the PR we heard when the first messages about salt-resistant
tomatoes went around the world. Please read more about Seaphire and its
Firm creating salt-resistant crops
A biotech start-up backed by millionaire and University of Phoenix founder
John Sperling has signed its first major licensing deal to develop salt-
Seaphire International, based in Phoenix, has acquired the exclusive
license to a technology developed at the University of Toronto in which
genes are inserted into plants to regulate the uptake of salt in their
fruits and seeds.
"It's applicable to Arizona, Texas, Australia, but also Ethiopia, Pakistan
and other countries," explained Roy Hodges, Seaphire's president and chief
About one-quarter of all U.S. crops is irrigated by water with high levels
of salinity that tamp down their yields. Crops in China, Europe and
Australia are affected at similar rates, ultimately hindering food
Seaphire's goal is to improve the efficiency of crops in stressful
environments, including drought, heat and areas with poor water quality.
But Hodges said the 3-year-old company is driven by an ethic that prevents
it from exploiting the technology to improve the yield of tobacco and other
non-food crops. It's too early to tell which types of crops the technology
could be used in or what the cost to farmers would be. Research has been
conducted on tomatoes and canola crops, among others.
The technology, which marks the first significant agreement for the firm,
could improve the yield of nearly 200 million acres of agricultural land
worldwide. That's the equivalent of the size of Texas or the worldwide area
of soybean crops.
The technology is based on inserting into the DNA of plants a sodium
antiporter gene, which improves the ability of plants to store salt in a
part of their cells known as vaculoes. Instead of blocking the uptake of
salt, the gene stops salt from being passed into its fruit or seeds.
The only downside of the transgenic plant could be that it would bear
smaller fruit. But Hodges sa id that is offset by faster growing time that
saves farmers money in the long run.
"This technology is several years away until a farmer is actually growing
it," Hodges said. "It's a question of biology" and the ability to reproduce
crops several generations out.
Seaphire is expected to produce some of the seeds containing the salt-
resistant gene and sublicense the technology to other firms. Seaphire, a
privately held agricultural biotech firm, would not disclose financial
terms of the deal.
The first market Seaphire envisions for the technology is reviving
previously productive crop land that is now fallow. The second market is
composed of land that has never been fertile enough to grow food, primarily
that in Third World countries. Seaphire then hopes to sell the technology
for land that is irrigated by progressively saltier water.
"We're not yet to growing crops at full-strength seawater," Hodges said.
Eduardo Blumwald, a University of Toronto professor who helped invent the
technology, said the licensing deal marks a step in the quest to end world
"We are very happy because we feel that Seaphire's mandate fits the
technology and sustainable agriculture," he said. "The outcome of the
research has huge implications to help agriculture worldwide."
Seaphire is meeting its business objectives through aggressive development
of internal intellectual property and focused in-licensing and acquisitions
of parallel technologies.
Seaphire International will shortly be issuing press releases and updating
this page. If you would like to be informed when the update occurs, please
email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add you to the notification list. Your
email address will not be used for any other purpose. In December of 2001
Seaphire International became a wholly owned subsidiary of Exeter Life
Sciences. The move into Exeter provides Seaphire with additional
infrastructure at the corporate level, additional capital infusions and
access to substantial research funds. This new structure provides Seaphire
with the resources to further develop technology and intellectual property.
Seaphire continues to work in the areas of agriculture and aquaculture with
a focus on value-added technologies that address specific problems with
THESE PROPRIETARY TECHNOLOGIES INCLUDE
- A step function increase in salt tolerance of commercial crops
- Improved performance and disease resistance of shrimp and other aqua
- Increased efficiency and productivity of both commercial plant and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
please call us at
Seaphire International, Inc. 4455 E. Camelback Road,
Suite B200, Phoenix, AZ 85018, U.S.A.
Research CorporationÕs hands-on activities also extend to global needs and
are exemplified in its support for an innovative aquaculture/agriculture
technology that promises to have an impact on world food production.
Seaphire International developed technology in Arizona to grow salt-
tolerant (halophytic) crops that could convert arid seacoasts to productive
farmlands. Using a unique plan of integrating aquaculture with halophyte
production, Seaphire International came to Research Corporation for
assistance at a critical stage in its development. The foundationÕs
investments and involvements have provided needed resources for expansion,
a growth in partnerships, and the management necessary to turn the plan
from an experiment into a business. Currently Seaphire International is a
major growth industry in the coastal African nation of Eritrea (see
www.seawaterfarms.com), and its experimental operations in Mexico and in
Bild am Sonntag
[a German newpaper]
Will These Plants Conquer Hunger in the World?
By Angela Helbing
6 August 2000
"I can see no more important development in the critical area of food needs
than plants tolerant of saltwater." Norman E. Borlaug (86), the American
forestry and agrarian scientist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize,
already expressed this in the 1970's. Today, 30 years later, such a plant
is grown in Eritrea. At first glance, it looks like thin green asparagus,
has a salty taste, and it likes a hot, humid climate. The plant is called
Seaphire, and it grows where nothing normally grows: on desert sand and
"Exactly that makes it a plant that can end the worlds hunger." Says Carl
Hodges (63), American agrarian scientist and partner in a seawater farm on
the Red Sea in Eritrea. "The world population increases so quickly that
they can no longer be fed with conventional agriculture and fresh water,"
he says. "That is only possible with salt-tolerant plants like Seaphire."
First Salad---Later Briquettes
The Seaphire cultivation is still in elementary school. For 18 months,
together with the Eritrean Government. Hodges has been cultivating the
wonder plant near the town of Massawa on the west coast of the Red Sea,
with success. On a previously barren stretch of desert is a green carpet of
How Seaphire can be used is explained by Ruth Fuzum (27) in the Eritrean
Pavilion at the EXPO in Hannover, where the plants and the project are
presented. "One can eat the about 10-cm long young plants. They are very
healthy due to their vitamin A and vitamin C content, and they taste good
in salads. But one can also cook them. The longer they cook the less salty
they taste." She explained. From the seeds can be extracted a protein rich
cooking oil, and from the straw of the plants one can make briquettes.
Hope for Work and Prosperity
"Fundamentally we greet each plant and each project that lead to new food
products." says the German Aid to World Hunger spokesperson, Simone Pott
(35). "There are still questions-for example whether the country's people
will even eat such a salty plant. And whether small farmers are in a
position to also grow these plants and thereby become self-sufficient."
Tewolde Andu, Mayor of Massawa, is confident: "With seaphire we have jobs.
Our region will be prosperous. That is a great opportunity for Eritrea."
And perhaps for the entire world.
Since the 1960's Hodges and his colleagues have conducted research to find
a vegetable to develop that required only clean seawater and desert sand.
The first successful attempts were in Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
In Eritrea now the first commercial seawater fields-the plants continually
have their "feet" in water-arose seawater canals and lakes in which the
trout-like saltwater fish, Tilapia, is grown; in growing ponds swim white
shrimp. All together, an eco-system that uses neither artificial fertilizer
Hodges and the Eritrean government have invested approximately $30 million
and 15 years in order to conjure up a paradise from stark nothing. Ibrahim
Said, Harbor and Transportation Deputy Minister of Eritrea, expects from
the farm millions of dollars for the desperately poor northeast African
"Seaphire can bring us prosperity," also says Ruth Fuzum. "We have an over
1,200 km-long coast with clean seawater without any industry. Therefore we
can cultivate large quantities of Seaphire, and our people have work and no
longer need to be hungry." In the future, other African countries can also
profit from this.
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