Tech firm with Minnesota ties offers a new path to desirable crop traits

2011-11-07T01:44:00Z Tech firm with Minnesota ties offers a new path to desirable crop traitsBy ANDREA JOHNSON, Assistant Editor Farm and Ranch Guide
November 07, 2011 1:44 am  • 

St. Paul, Minn. – Cibus Global is a plant trait development firm with offices in San Diego, St. Paul, Minn. and the Netherlands.

The company has developed proprietary technology to help seed companies improve crop quality and yield.

In 2012, Cibus will showcase a canola variety with sulfonylurea tolerance developed with their technology. The seed is not classified as genetically modified.

“Cibus” -- Latin for “food” -- Global was established in November 2001. The company employs about 80 people.

They provide technology to several large agriculture companies, by offering a faster process for developing desirable traits in non-biotech crops than conventional breeding.

The technology is called the Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS™). This non-transgenic technology allows the plant to make its own natural changes, said David Voss, Cibus vice president of commercial development, based in St. Paul.

While many companies use genetic markers as locations to screen plants for traits, RTDS goes farther as an advanced breeding technique.

“We have a technology that allows us to harness a natural mechanism within the plant to make an all-natural change,” said Voss. “Therefore it is a mutation-based technology that is very site-specific.”

Farmers see plant mutations all the time in their fields. For instance, the weed that is tolerant to a herbicide is a mutant that has been selected due to an overuse of the herbicide chemistry. The mutation is natural, as no one used biotechnology to make the weed tolerant.

“We have learned to harness the plant itself to make its own mutation,” he said. “This is similar to what could occur in nature.”

Voss said that Cibus uses the information from crop genome mapping to determine a targeted DNA sequence change, and then uses RTDS technology to make those changes in a natural way.

According to the company’s website, “a chemically synthesized oligonucleotide, composed of both DNA and modified RNA bases, as well as other chemicals, is designed to hybridize at the targeted gene location to create a mismatched base pair. This mismatched pair acts as a signal to attract the cell’s own natural gene repair system. The system corrects the designated nucleotides within the gene. Once the correction process is complete, the RTDS molecule is degraded. The modified or repaired gene is expressed under the gene’s normal endogenous control mechanisms.

“This procedure causes a precise change in the genetic sequence, while the rest of the genome is left unaltered.

“There is no foreign material integrated into the plant. The affected genes remain in their native location.”

The USDA has evaluated the RTDS technology, and the agency determined the mutation-based technology does not qualify as a transgenic. Instead, the technology develops seed that is considered conventional.

“When you consider the burden that regulatory puts on transgenic, we can develop products for about one-tenth of the cost,” Voss said. “That’s a benefit to company partners, and will ultimately benefit the farmer.”

Cibus is now working in eight partnerships that include eight crops developing 12 value-added plant traits using the RTDS process.

These include working with BASF to develop and commercialize non-genetically modified herbicide tolerance in rapeseed and canola.

In addition, Cibus is working with the National Flax Council of Canada to develop non-transgenic flax traits; BrettYoung to bring new canola traits to North America, and Rotam to provide crop protection herbicides for RTDS-developed canola.

One of the projects in the Cibus pipeline is a potato resistant to blackspot bruising. This disease costs the U.S. potato industry about $400 million annually.

Cibus has also field tested their first commercially available trait. They intend to release enough canola seed in 2012 for about 200 acres with tolerance to Rotam’s sulfonylurea (SU) herbicide.

The SU herbicide traditionally controls broadleaf weeds in cereals.

“This will be another weed control option,” said Voss. “The benefits are it’s a one pass system, and it allows the grower excellent weed control.”

While Cibus has their headquarters and labs in San Diego, field trials and commercial activities are conducted from Minnesota. The Minnesota office includes Voss and Jim Radtke, Ph.D., vice president of product development.

The company is now lining up 10-12 canola growers in North Dakota and Minnesota that want to host 20-acre field trials of Cibus SU-tolerant canola seed. Voss welcomes phone calls or emails from growers who would like to participate in the 2012 trials.

Cibus intends to launch a full-scale seed introduction in 2013. In addition to Rotam, Cibus is working with BrettYoung Seeds in Winnipeg, and distributor West Central, Inc. in Willmar, Minn.

“One of the most important things for farmers to understand is there are other technologies being developed that can help them,” Voss said. “Surprisingly, some of these technologies are developed by smaller companies like Cibus. Some of these technologies will be marketed through large agriculture companies, but were developed by local scientists.”

Visit cibus.com for more information. Farmers who are interested in participating in the canola field trial may email David Voss at dvoss@cibusllc.com or call 858-450-0008.

Copyright 2015 Farm and Ranch Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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