Crop Tech Corner

Monsanto, Pioneer Looking to New Biotechnologies

Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
(DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.


Monsanto has joined the race to get gene editing into the agricultural market. The company has announced a license agreement with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to use the CRISPR-Cas gene-editing technique developed there in their seed breeding programs. The company joins another agricultural company, DuPont Pioneer, which licensed CRISPR-Cas technology from Vilnius University in 2015. (There is a legal battle underway to determine which scientists and which institutions actually hold the original patent on CRISPR-Cas technology).

Pioneer has successfully produced a waxy corn hybrid with CRISPR-Cas9 editing, which has been deregulated by USDA. The company has also announced breakthroughs with the technique in the development of drought-tolerant corn hybrids. Now Monsanto will use the gene editing technique to tackle its own breeding projects, according to a company press release. The technique allows scientists to precisely cut out and re-insert genes in a plant's DNA. For now, if the inserted gene is not from a foreign organism, USDA has indicated that it will not regulate the resulting products like a genetically-modified organism. (A National Academy of Sciences panel is currently examining new biotech techniques like CRISPR to make recommendations to regulatory bodies like USDA on how to oversee them in the future, so that could change).

Broad Institute's non-exclusive license of CRISPR to Monsanto has several caveats, noted Issi Rosen, Broad's chief business officer, in a Broad press release. Monsanto cannot use the technique in "gene drives," a technique that rapidly forces a new gene throughout an entire species. Nor can it create "terminator seeds," or sterile seeds, with the technology. Finally, Broad has required that Monsanto not use the technique in the production of any commercial tobacco varieties. "Responsible use of CRISPR gene editing technology in agriculture has the potential to help reduce world hunger, reduce our reliance on pesticides, help society adapt to the effects of climate change, reduce the diversion of water from drinking supplies to farms, and increase nutrition and raise the efficiency of crop yields," Rosen concluded.

For more information, see Monsanto's press release here:…, Rosen's release here:…, and DTN's previous coverage of CRISPR-Cas9 in agriculture here:….


There's a new protein in town. Pioneer scientists have found an insect-killing protein from a non-Bt bacterium called Pseudomonas chlororaphis. They've dubbed the protein IPD072Aa, according to the study's abstract. Like Bt, the new protein is likely only effective against the western corn rootworm. The scientists found that it left several other types of insects from the lepidopteran order (moths and butterflies) and hemipteran order (like true bugs and stink bugs) unharmed. Most importantly, the new protein appeared effective against rootworm larvae with resistance to Bt traits on the market -- a growing problem for corn growers and the industry.

"This protein could be a critical component for managing corn rootworm in future corn seed product offerings," Neal Gutterson, DuPont Pioneer's vice president of research and development," said in a company press release. "The work also suggests that bacteria other than Bt are alternative sources of insecticidal proteins for insect control trait development." The press release also noted another study from Pioneer scientists that found new ways to target western corn rootworm larvae with RNA-interference technology, which works by blocking the expression of genes in an organism's DNA. RNAi is also being against rootworm by Monsanto, which uses the technology its next generation of rootworm traits, SmartStax PRO.

You can read more about these developments in the Pioneer press release here:…, as well as the protein study abstract here:… and the RNAi study here:….

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Emily Unglesbee