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Pioneer develops technology to speed traits to market

Pioneer Hi-Bred International recently showed how it's planning to bring corn traits faster to market.

Pioneer scientists are using a proprietary technology called FAST (Functional Analysis System for Traits) Corn that will enable them to grow first-generation corn plants in approximately 60 days. That's quicker than the 100 days it takes to do this under field conditions. If first-generation traits are promising, scientists can plant a second generation in a greenhouse environment immediately, rather than having to wait for next year's growing season under field testing.

Testing that formerly would take two to three years in a field environment can now be completed in six to nine months with this technology, says Bill Niebur, a vice president of crop genetics research and development for DuPont, Pioneer's parent company.

FAST uses a type of hybrid that takes just 60 days to to from seed to maturity. FAST automatically provides nutrients and water to plants, and can alter light availability and weather conditions. Robotics technology is used to route plants via conveyor to an automated digital imaging system that daily records items like plant growth, architecture, and color. Promising genes then go onto further testing.

Rewards in the seed industry are going to companies that can quickly screen the most genes and place promising traits into top-notch hybrids. "It's all about speed to market," says Doyle Karr, Pioneer spokesman.

FAST will enable Pioneer to test thousands of genes annually, and enable it to insert traits it deems promising into hybrids it markets to farmers, say Pioneer officials. Traits Pioneer has in the works include those that improve nitrogen efficiency, boost yield, and tolerate drought and cold.

Cold tolerance is particularly key. "Corn growers will tell me that tolerance to cold and wet environments is more important than tolerance to heat and drought," says Niebur. Even without drought tolerance, farmers have told him today's hybrids withstand dry weather more than they can tolerate cold and wet conditions, he adds.

Corn will always require nitrogen (N). However, N efficiency traits will enable plants to use it more efficiently.

"We want the plant to maintain the same yield on 25% to 30% less nitrogen, or increase yield 25% to 30% by adding the same amount of nitrogen," says Niebur.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International recently showed how it's planning to bring corn traits faster to market.

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