GENET archive


SCIENCE & PLANTS: Next decade’s GE crop traits now in development

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Agriculture Online, USA

AUTHOR: Gil Gullickson


DATE:   01.12.2008

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If your promising 200-bushel per acre pre-harvest corn morphed into 150 bushel harvestime reality to a late-season lack of nitrogen (N), flash forward into next decade. Seed and chemical companies are developing N-use traits that could help you better manage N.

Earlier this fall, BASF and Monsanto hosted U.S. and European journalists at research laboratories in Belgium and Germany where they are researching and developing N-use and many other traits. These traits represent the next wave on top of the traits you now use to deter corn insects and resist non-selective herbicides like glyphosate.

Want more yield? Yield genes are in the works. Ditto for traits that help you better manage N, deter drought, or swat soybean cyst nematode (SCN).

The bad news? Well, pry open your wallet. At Commodity Classic in Nashville last February, BASF officials theorized prices of current corn triple-stacks laced with traits like drought tolerance and N efficiency could tally up to $500 per bag by 2012.

Company officials on this tour didn?t peg a certain amount. It?s certain prices will increase, though, says Hans Kanst, president and chief executive officer of BASF Plant Science. Farmers will weigh additional seed costs against the seed s value on their farms.

?It?s all dollars and math,? says Kanst. ?When you add more value (for the farmer), the seed is a more valuable component.?

Drought tolerance early next decade

Monsanto and BASF entered into a contractual relationship in March 2007 to develop traits that include yield enhancement, drought tolerance, and SCN resistance. The companies are using advanced technologies like phenotypic screening and metabolic profiling to develop these products.

Pending regulatory approval, the first glimpse you?ll get of these traits will be around 2012. That?s when they plan to roll out a first-generation drought-tolerant corn hybrid.

BASF and Monsanto will target these hybrids for 10 to 12 million acres in the outer Corn Belt areas, such as western Nebraska, These are areas where lack of water is often the main yield-limiting factor. ?It will help protect the plant against stress if there is a reduction in water,? says Steve Padgette, vice president, Monsanto biotechnology.

Around mid-next decade, the companies plan to launch a second-generation drought-tolerant product that targets the main Corn Belt, such as central Illinois, pending regulatory approval. It aims more at stabilizing corn yields during droughty periods. ?If you get water stress during pollination and grain fill, this will help stabilize yields,? says Padgette.

The companies are aiming at 6% to 10% yield increases in drought-stressed areas for both traits.

Yield, yield, yield

Monsanto and BASF also are developing yield-enhancing traits that will boost yield above those that normally increase via varietal improvement. ?Traditional corn breeding gives yield improvement a bit over 1% per year, maybe 1.5% per year,? says Padgette. ?Ordinarily through conventional soybean breeding, yields increase .5% on average each year.?

Both corn and soybean yield genes ramp this up by targeting a 6% to 10% yield boost over normal varietal improvement. Pending regulatory approval, they?ll debut around the middle of next decade. For soybeans, the companies are researching a second-generation higher-yielding trait that will debut after this time frame.

N-use trait

N is a buzz saw these days for growers. Apply too much, and you can literally be pouring money down the ground in unused N. Apply too little, though, and your promising bin-busting corn at the end of July can quickly morph into a pale shade of green.

Company scientists are working on an N trait that will help plants optimize N use. This N trait can benefit farmers in a couple scenarios.

Boost yields under normal N environments.

Stabilize plant performance and yields under low N environments.

So far, the N-utilization trait shows promise. Under normal conditions over multiple years, company tests show an 8- to 10-bushel per acre yield increase, says Padgette.

Better SCN management

There are some excellent SCN-resistant soybean varieties on the market these days. Still, even the best resistant varieties are prone to SCN root attacks. BASF and Monsanto are genetically modifying the soybean plant to battle back against SCN.

?We help the plant protect itself against the soybean cyst nematodes by destroying the feeding sites that cyst nematode usually produce in order to get access to the sugar in the roots,? says Jurgen Logemann, BASF vice president for global technology management. ?We add one additional gene expressed in the roots that is preventing the cyst nematode from building these feeding structures to get fed and to take out these nutrients out of the plant that the plant needs. By destroying the feeding structures, the cyst nematode cannot live and survive anymore and falls off. The soybean plant can then produce 100% of yield as if there was no infestation.?

Logemann adds progress has been excellent and they are aiming at a mid-next decade marketing date.

So what will all this cost?

More than you?re paying now for seed. At this time, though, it?s difficult to gauge how much more. At the risk of visiting cliché corner, it all hinges upon how much value these traits have on your farm. Padgette adds that farmers use these criteria to gauge seed value:

Its substitution value, such as whether the value of an insect-resistant trait outweighs the value of a chemical control method.

Potential yield increase.

Convenience and cost-cutting factors, such as fuel and time savings from fewer field trips. Padgette notes farmers have limited control in many input decisions, such as nitrogen prices, current land rents, equipment or current economic conditions.

However, the type of seed they select is within their control. ?They carefully assess the top-yielding seeds,? he says. ?The transparency of yield is there. Farmers in the combine can get a readout and see how it is yielding as they harvest.?

More traits coming

?This is a long-term effort,? says Kanst. Traits you see on the market reflect an 8 to 10 year effort to get them on the market, he notes.

So what?s next? Monsanto and BASF officials say they have plenty of genes on the way. Kanst notes one potential area could be traits dealing with fungal resistance. In Europe, for example, small grain producers typically apply several applications of fungicides to small grains battered by fungal infections.

In the U.S., fungicide use is spreading beyond its usual niche in fruit and vegetable production toward row crops and small grains.

?Maybe the next generation of fungicides may be a biotech solution,? says Kanst. ?Rather than applying fungicides, there might be a gene to treat fungal disease in small grains.?

                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------


SOURCE: The News & Observer, USA

AUTHOR: Sabine Vollmer


DATE:   06.12.2008

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RTP science lab searches for stronger, more efficient gene-altered food crops

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK - Corn and soybean plants are plentiful in the BASF greenhouses in Research Triangle Park, where scientists generate and test crops whose genes have been altered to adapt to difficult climates or to pack more nutrients.

Among the pots are also a few sprouting rice and wheat plants.

That?s unusual. Genetically modified crops have been around for more than two decades. But companies that tinker with plant genes tend to focus on crops that have long been bred for desirable traits. Genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola and cotton seeds, including varieties that can tolerate herbicides or are resistant to pests, are widely used by U.S. farmers to produce more food, feed and fibers on the same-size fields.

Rice and wheat are fairly new to gene modification because farmers and consumers have been less accepting of artificial changes to those food crops. But BASF, a German chemical giant that came late to agricultural biotechnology, has begun to branch out. Its executives think that those preferences are changing and that the demand will increase as populations grow and acreage stays the same or shrinks.

Much of the work is done at its U.S. plant science research hub in RTP where its scientists have been working in food research longer.

?With rice we are to the point where we?re very heavily investing in field trials,? said Jonathan Bryant, managing director of BASF?s plant science business in the U.S. ?And we?re seeing success.?

Research into genetically modified wheat is just beginning. BASF is considering plants such as switchgrass and trees for biofuel production, Bryant said.

In the United States, Latin America and parts of Asia, farmers and consumers are becoming accustomed to genetically modified crops. And as farmers seek to increase their yield per acre with limited acreage for crops, sales of biotech seeds are expected to more than double to $15 billion in 2015.

Competition for market share is fierce. Right now nobody sells more genetically modified seeds than St. Louis-based Monsanto, which has 95 percent of the market. But Syngenta, DuPont?s Pioneer, Bayer CropScience and Dow Agrosciences all are trying to claim a bigger piece of the pie.

In an effort to retain its dominance, Monsanto two years ago turned to BASF. The companies plan to invest $1.5 billion over the next two decades to bring new genetically modified crops to market. The collaboration is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The fruits of that collaboration are ripening at the RTP facility that BASF opened in 1999. For its 10th anniversary, the company provided a facility tour this week and a progress report on its research activities.

* BASF and Monsanto are investigating hundreds of plant genes to come up with seeds that produce hardier, more productive corn, soybean, cotton and canola plants. The most advanced products are being tested in large field trials, said Stephen Evola, director of BASF?s plant science research. By 2012, Monsanto hopes to sell the first genetically modified corn seeds generated by its collaboration with BASF.

* BASF added rice to its research activities two years ago, when it bought Crop Design, a Belgian biotech company that used rice to discover yield-boosting plant genes. Last year, BASF started work on genetically modified rice as a commercial crop, Evola said. Farmers in the United States and Asia are increasingly buying hybrid rice seeds. Worldwide, rice is one of the top three crops planted by acreage. BASF is still looking for a partner to bring its modified rice to market.

* BASF?s work with canola plants isn?t limited to higher yield. Outside of the company?s collaboration with Monsanto, BASF researchers are also trying to engineer canola plants that produce oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an important health supplement found naturally in fish oil. As with research on genetically modified wheat, BASF has yet to start work on canola plants outside Europe.

WHAT: BASF is one of three large European agricultural biotech companies with operations in Research Triangle Park. Syngenta and Bayer CropScience are the others.

HISTORY: Opened in 1999, BASF?s facility is home to the German company?s U.S. agricultural chemicals and crop protection business and its U.S. plant sciences research.

EMPLOYEES: About 700, including about 200 working in plant science.

BUSINESS: Discover genetically modified crops that allow farmers to produce more food, animal feed and fibers on the same acreage.

TOP EXECUTIVE: Jonathan Bryant, managing director of BASF Plant Science.



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