Our rapidly growing population, combined with ongoing development of farmland, is forcing changes to the global food system. Environmental concerns encourage a decrease in crop inputs like fertilizer and Ag chemicals, while a growing population needs higher yields (more food). Global changes in the climate are increasing the severity of diseases and insect pests that rob crops of yield.
Furthermore, consumers are looking for transparency and traceability within the production system for their food, with non-GMO options preferred by many. New solutions are clearly needed to address these issues.
New Tools to Address the Needs
Farmers face many challenges, including the need to manage their rotation while maximizing the quality and yield of crops produced on their farm. They need to do this in the face of threats from disease, insect pests, climate change, and more aggressive weeds.
These threats make it difficult to meet the rising demand for food, and are the challenges that inspired and motivated Cibus’ team of plant biologists, geneticists, and agronomists.
The immediate question: How does one accelerate the breeding process to deliver nature’s results faster and more efficiently?
We examined historically successful breeding technologies like wide crosses, mutation breeding, hybridization, marker-assisted selection, and protoplast fusion. Our scientists concluded it was possible to improve quality, flavor, nutrition, and yield while increasing tolerance to disease, herbicides, and drought without the use of transgenics, also known as GM technology.
To reach these objectives, we developed the Rapid Trait Development System™ (RTDS™). RTDS offers a disruptive alternative to previous transgenic approaches by making targeted spelling changes in genes that result in changes similar to those found or produced by plant breeding programs in past years. Since it does not allow incorporation of foreign DNA, RTDS delivers results that could be found in nature.
Fast Natural Genetic Changes
What many people do not consider is that there are natural genetic changes that occur in every generation of each plant and animal. Most of these changes involve a single letter in the DNA code. These changes accumulate over time to add diversity to a species and sometimes, protect it from its changing environment.
To our knowledge, everything we are doing at Cibus could occur in nature. Rather than wait for a desired mutation or change to turn up somewhere in the world, Cibus has made it possible to precisely target changes in elite lines of each crop available for a particular geography. Most importantly, RTDS has broad applicability across all crops.
Since its introduction, RTDS is being used to develop traits in rice, potato, flax and canola, with other major crops in the R&D phase. Cibus’ pipeline of crops showcases the possibilities for this advanced technology.
In 2015 a new product from the Cibus cell biology program, SU Canola™ was introduced in a test market launch to growers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, many of whom were interested in trying this new innovative product. What had looked good to us on paper was now working on the farm, and our initial success led to a significant increase in sales the following season. SU Canola is expected to be available for sale in Canada in 2017 with other global markets to follow.
Farmers continue to look for options to make their farms more profitable and SU Canola is one way they can do just that. Along with fitting nicely into their crop rotations with soybeans, they can also receive non-GMO premiums for planting SU Canola.
Multiple Traits in Multiple Crops
Targeting natural processes like unique herbicide tolerance, stress resistance, nutrient use efficiency, improved yield, and healthier oils in canola will lead to a portfolio of compelling traits. We believe these traits will drive adoption of Cibus canola into the 22 million acre North American market and later in other global markets. Combining the growing demand for non-GMO food ingredients with traits that add value at all levels will allow the farmer to produce a canola crop more efficiently and profitably than ever before while delivering products that are desired by consumers.
Our team is working hard to bring other non-transgenic solutions to the global farming community, including:
- A potato resistant to Phytophthora (responsible for the Great Famine in Ireland) with the potential to reduce fungicide use;
- A weed control trait in flax, a valuable crop which has had little trait development work done in the past; and
- Weed control traits in rice to allow the farmers to control difficult weeds that reduce productivity.
What the Future Brings
New tools for plant breeding like RTDS are providing traits that deliver to the grower more choice and value. Higher yields translate to lower prices, while a need for less fertilizer has potential to improve the quality of local water supplies. Improved disease resistance minimizes fungicide use, while the crops grown provide healthier oils, better grains, and added value downstream for consumers.
The ability to introduce targeted traits across all crops will be key to feeding a rapidly growing world population. The opportunity to improve the farmer’s bottom line by reducing inputs, producing healthier and higher yielding crops, and leveraging available premium prices for their crops, are all just added benefits.
At Cibus we have a vision to develop and use advanced breeding techniques to rapidly develop plants and meet increased demands for both food and feed. Developing traits that add value at the farm gate and for the consumer is important for all of agriculture, and we are excited to be a part of it.
Cibus occupies a stimulating commercial niche, and our enthusiasm and commitment to improving agriculture is high. Between our abilities to mitigate environmental and planting issues, increase farmer incomes, lower food costs, and successfully (and efficiently) introduce desirable non-transgenic traits across a broad spectrum of plants, it is easy to see Cibus as a solution to countless agricultural issues.
For Cibus, it is a job well-done if we leave the world a better place than we found it.
Please download AgroPages' latest magazine - 2017 Seed Special to see more.