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Monsanto Researchers Showcase New Breakthrough

Monsanto hopes to solve Bt Resistance

Monsanto researchers have announced breakthrough technology that will deliver new capabilities with protein science in agriculture. The research, conducted by Harvard University scientists and Monsanto scientists, published today, shows how PACE (phage-assisted continuous evolution) technology will generate novel insect-control traits for crops. This technology will be used to target pests that have developed resistance to prior agriculture solutions.

Using PACE, the team of researchers from Monsanto and Harvard evolved new forms of a naturally occurring insecticidal protein called Bt toxin. It's those proteins that will be used to control insect resistance.

“Our goal in this collaboration was ambitious,” said Harvard University professor of chemistry and chemical biology, David Liu. “The key questions were can we retarget a Bt toxin to a different insect gut protein by evolving the Bt toxin, and will doing so enable us to kill insects that have become resistant to wild-type Bt toxin? Our hope was to use PACE to help stay ahead of insect resistance.”

This technology will allow researchers to continue providing farmers with biotech crops at a pace 100 times faster than previous methods have allowed to create, identify, and evolve optimized proteins, according to the company report. “It’s a breakthrough in a way we can handle resistance in the future,” says Tom Malvar, insect control discovery lead at Monsanto and one of the authors of the published research.

The ability to speed the discovery of improved and optimized proteins enables faster advancements in the improvement of crops, as proteins are the central building blocks to the agronomic traits farmers value, such as insect control and herbicide tolerance.

“This technology is not limited to insect control,” says Malvar. “We envision this having broad applications.”

He says this technology will address the biotech products that already have been and will be developed – whether it is managing insects, weeds, or issues revolving around changing climates and volatile weather.

“This technology helps us further develop traits and improve upon them,” explains Malvar. “The actual applications coming out of the PACE technology are 10-plus years out. This gives us an opportunity to ensure the long-term technology.”

“Scientific breakthroughs like PACE technology are key to continue bringing solutions to farmers to help them get more out of every acre,” said Tom Adams, vice president of biotechnology at Monsanto.

Researchers published the results of a recent study using PACE technology in Nature. Monsanto and Harvard initiated their ongoing collaboration on PACE technology in 2013, and Monsanto has since entered into a limited-term, exclusive license agreement with Harvard for the use of this technology for agricultural applications.

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