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ZeaKal’s PhotoSeed technology boosts soybean oil and protein content

ZeaKal officials say this is done with no yield penalty.

ZeaKal, a plant traits innovator focused on improving crop efficiency and sustainability, has announced research results from multiyear field trials of its PhotoSeed technology that it says sets a new standard for soybean composition and productivity. 

PhotoSeed increases a plant’s photosynthetic capacity, thereby capturing more carbon dioxide and sunlight, say ZeaKal officials. In the case of soybeans, ZeaKal has been able to harness this additional energy into producing more oil and protein. Across second-year replicated field trials, PhotoSeed soybeans increased the per-acre production of oil and protein by 18% and 3%, respectively, without any penalty to seed yield. 

“Grown on more than 120 million hectares (296.5 million acres) worldwide, soybeans are an essential part of the food ingredient, vegetable oil, and animal feed markets,” said Paul Schickler, ZeaKal board adviser and former president of DuPont Pioneer (now part of Corteva Agriscience), in a ZeaKal news release. “However, the crop has faced mounting export challenges, continued declines in protein level, and decreased nutrition. Innovation is critical in meeting the demands of farmers and consumers for increased value in the form of expanded functionality, better nutrition and sustainability, while continuing to deliver productivity.  ZeaKal’s ability to dramatically improve both oil and protein composition in soybeans will help address these demands in a key crop, while securing soybeans as a major component of the regenerative agricultural system.”

Companies like ZeaKal can help farmers compete on the global export market,” said Ben Riensche, a Jessup, Iowa, farmer in a ZeaKal news release. Riensche’s family farm produces corn and soybeans on 14,000 acres. “Farmers have always dealt with financial, environmental, and trade challenges,” he added. “Now, more than ever, we are also looking for technology solutions that can elevate our crops beyond low commodity pricing with value propositions that processors, food companies, and consumers alike demand and are willing to pay for.”

The Riensche farm regularly conducts research to advance crop nutrition and conservation practices. “I am particularly interested in the potential for increased carbon sequestration from products like PhotoSeed, as operations like ours continue to seek alternative revenue sources not tied strictly to yield,” Riensche said.

The majority of the increased oil content by PhotoSeed was driven by increases in oleic acids, say ZeaKal officials. Due to FDA approval of qualified health claims for oleic acids around heart health, improving soybean oil profile has been a core industry focus in recent years. ZeaKal’s continued R&D efforts will also focus on further improving the productivity and composition of other staple crops, say company officials.

“Our mission is to bring food security and meet nutritional demands on a global scale. Along the way, we have to ensure that the products we create are also elevating the incomes of growers at the front lines of food production,” said Han Chen, cofounder and chief executive officer, ZeaKal, in a ZeaKal news release. “Based on these unprecedented results, we expect PhotoSeed to create significant new revenues – ensuring the longevity and success of farmers, while improving the environmental sustainability of global agriculture.”

ZeaKal will expand field trials across additional sites in 2020, while also bringing new genetics innovations through the pipeline. Delivering additional benefits in carbon fixation and nitrogen metabolism, PhotoSeed may further augment agriculture’s role in meeting global sustainability goals in the years to come, say company officials. 

“With improved photosynthesis, our PhotoSeed plants are capturing more carbon dioxide from the air and converting it into more biomass and yield. This could potentially increase soil carbon from the residual biomass. These benefits are only the tip of the iceberg as we strive to make agriculture more sustainable,” noted Greg Bryan, cofounder and chief technology officer, ZeaKal, in a ZeaKal news release. “PhotoSeed plants also have changes in how they use nutrients, and the changes in nitrogen metabolism may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality.”

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