Monsanto has signed a string of licensing deals to add new gene editing capabilities to its established methods of genetically modifying seeds
The article below contains a host of “wishful thinking” industry talking points about the supposed precision of gene editing techniques.
Monsanto moves to gene editing
Wall St Journal via The Australian Business Review, 9 May 2017
Monsanto is opening its next chapter in genetic technology — and may face more competition.
The company is investing in gene editing in an effort to keep an edge over rival suppliers of hi-tech crop seeds. Monsanto has signed a string of licensing deals to add new gene-editing capabilities to its established methods of genetically modifying seeds.
Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said gene editing could help corn plants thrive in dry conditions, or produce tastier capsicums. “It’s a breakthrough technology,” he said. “It’s going to create just a wave of innovation.”
But start-ups and competitors such as DuPont and Dow Chemical are also working on gene-edited plants, which can advance through regulatory reviews faster than seeds developed with earlier biotechnology techniques.
Gene editing is different from the genetic modifications that Monsanto and other companies pioneered in the 1980s.
Gene editing allows scientists to make changes to a plant’s existing DNA with the same precision that word-processing programs can edit text, scientists say. In the crop-seed business, genetic modification up to this point mainly has involved inserting new genes from bacteria or another plant. That difference can mean a shorter review by US regulatory agencies for gene-edited crops.
The latter technology is what created Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds — modified to resist herbicides — and turned the company over the past 20 years into the world’s largest seller of crop seeds. That GMO seed business last year spurred a $US57 billion takeover offer from German chemical conglomerate Bayer.
But seed giants and Farm Belt upstarts view gene editing as the new frontier in genetic technology, potentially offering a cheaper and easier method of tweaking plants’ DNA.
Emerging technologies such as Crispr-Cas9 and Exzact allow scientists to change a plant’s performance without inserting genes from other species or bacteria. Gene editing can also help researchers insert new genes more precisely into plants’ DNA, hastening the development of biotech plants that can produce their own insect-killing proteins.
Over the past year, Monsanto has licensed two different Crispr versions, Crispr-Cas and Crispr-Cpf1, as well as the Exzact technology and another gene-editing platform developed by TargetGene Biotechnologies. The company has recruited medical and pharmaceutical researchers to explore the technologies’ potential to tweak the genes of corn, soybeans, cotton and vegetables in ways that will make farmers more profitable.
“We don’t think there’s a silver bullet in this,” said Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s chief executive.
“We’ve tried to play across the emerging front of these technologies.”