New Breeding Technology Seen Challenging Biotech Providers
By Stephen Clapp
Published: November 27, 2006 (Food Chemical News)
Cibus, a San Diego-based plant breeding company, is collaborating with the National Grain Sorghum Producers Foundation to develop new crop traits using the company’s proprietary Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS).
The company’s Nov. 16 announcement was described by the Financial Times as a breakthrough that “could transform the multibillion dollar agricultural biotech market” and introduce tough competition in Europe and other markets hostile to transgenic crops. Chairman Stephen Evans Freke “makes clear that Cibus will be gunning commercially for Monsanto, béte noire of environmental campaigners, whose herbicide-resistant crops dominate the GM business,” the newspaper said.
“For the first time since GMO products hit the market more than a decade ago, there is a viable technology that can replicate the attributes of certain GMO crops without the introduction of foreign genetic material,” Cibus president Keith Walker said in a joint news release with the National Grain Sorghum Producers Foundation, elaborating:
“RTDS is an environmentally safe, smart-breeding technology that enables seed producers to develop plants with commercially valuable characteristics. Unlike genetic engineering, which takes exotic genetic material from one species and inserts it into another, thus producing GMO crops, RTDS introduces genetic traits through a natural process of gene repair within the very same gene species.”
Cibus said its RTDS technology operates exclusively within the genome of the plant, just like normal plant breeding, thereby eliminating environmental and health risks as well as other unintended and unknown consequences associated with transgenic crops. The technology produces changes within a plant species that could only occur in nature, but it does so in a directed way, the company said.
“RTDS is more precise and much faster than traditional hit-and-miss plant breeding and transgenic breeding technology, both of which can take years to perfect a trait,” Cibus said, adding that its technology “delivers the advantages that farmers seek in GMO crops, such as herbicide tolerance or increased yield, but also benefits from the clear path to market and consumer confidence of traditionally bred plants. Cibus’ regulatory advantage and the speed of this plant breeding technology promise the greatly accelerated development of new value-added traits in readily accepted crops.”
Bruce Maunder, president of the sorghum producers foundation, said the partnership with Cibus offers sorghum growers “the unique ability to control their future by taking trait development into their own hands … Although we have good working relationships with the major seed companies, sorghum is a low priority for the application of biotechnology resources. Primary research and commercial focuses are corn, soybeans and cotton.”
Monsanto expresses confidence.
Monsanto isn’t exactly shaking in its boots. Spokeswoman Lori Fisher told Food Chemical News that the company finds it “flattering” that Cibus would seek entry into the market for modified seed products. “It validates that what we’ve done over the past decade has been helpful to growers of food and fiber. It’s also validation that there is plenty of room for lots of players.” Fisher said Monsanto is familiar with its core technology and has chosen a different path from that of Cibus. “We think ours is more viable from a commercial point of view,” she said. “Also, we’re working within a functioning regulatory system.”