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Corn drought tolerance gene discovery will yield 'more and better products,' companies say

Agriculture.com Staff 06/09/2009 @ 12:32pm

Monsanto Company and BASF scientists have unveiled the discovery that a naturally-occurring gene can help corn plants combat drought conditions and confer yield stability during periods of inadequate water supplies, according to a company report.

The companies say they will use the gene in their first-generation drought-tolerant corn product which is designed to provide yield stability to their farmer customers. This product will be the first biotechnology-derived drought-tolerant crop in the world.

The announcement comes at a time when recent studies, including one by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, are warning of declining crop yields and global food shortages as a result of climate change. According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report prepared for ministers of the G-8, the number and duration of dry spells, especially in already drought-prone areas, is expected to increase.

The companies said that the drought-tolerant corn contains the cspB gene, from Bacillus subtilis. CspB codes for and is responsible for an RNA chaperone, which are commonly occurring protein molecules that bind to RNAs and facilitate their function. The gene was first identified in bacteria subjected to cold stress conditions and further research has demonstrated that cspB helps plants cope with drought stress. Monsanto scientists have published those findings in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal, Plant Physiology.

In corn, cspB works by helping the plant maintain growth and development during times of inadequate water supply. A corn plant is particularly vulnerable to drought during reproductive growth stages. By mitigating the impact of drought on the plant, cspB helps provide yield stability. Improved yield stability is of significant value to farmers faced with unpredictable rainfall.

"The development of this trait demonstrates the strength of our robust discovery engine which is fueled by our ongoing investment in R&D," says Robert Fraley, Chief Technology Officer for Monsanto. "It also reflects our commitment to our farmer customers and a recognition of the investment they make in our products. Drought-tolerant corn will be another tool with which we can help them meet the challenges facing agriculture today."

"BASF and Monsanto's drought-tolerant corn is the first result of our plant biotechnology collaboration of which I am very proud," says Jürgen Schweden, Senior Vice President R&D, BASF Plant Science. "With our complementing technologies, we are able to bring more and better products to farmers faster," he adds.

Monsanto and BASF noted that the drought-tolerant corn product is targeted for as early as 2012 pending appropriate regulatory approvals. Both companies also recently announced that they have completed regulatory submissions for cultivation in the United States and Canada, and for import to Mexico, the European Union and Colombia. Submissions in other import markets will follow in the months to come.

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