This week biotechnology industry professionals are meeting in San Diego to discuss the state of the industry. During such big events, major announcements are also included. And Dow AgroSciences made a major release late Wednesday afternoon.
The company's announcement sounds, at first, like a little bit of investment banker gobbledygook. Dow has "exercised its option for Sangamo technology four months earlier than expected," says Jerome Peribere, Dow AgroSciences president and CEO. In fact, the announcement gives Dow exclusive access to a new way to modify plants for a wide range of traits from advanced food production to plant pharmaceuticals to enhanced fuel production.
Called zinc finger binding protein - or ZFP - technology, the approach allows extremely precise placement of genetic traits in a plant. Dow AgroSciences will be calling the technology Exzact Precision Traits when it comes to market.
The agreement allows Dow AgroSciences to use the technology in its own research program and to market the technology for use by others.
This is a landmark announcement for the plant biotech industry. Long in search of a more precise way to place genes and traits into the plant, researchers continue to struggle with what can sometimes appear to be a shotgun approach. Traits are pushed into susceptible plants in hopes that the genes will end up in the right place and properly express in the finished product. Using the Exzact technology, Dow officials say that problem is solved.
"This technology will accelerate trait stacking and the combination of many characteristics in the same plant in the same place on the genome," says Edward Lanphier, Sangamo BioSciences Inc., president and CEO. "We're already looking forward to the future with new high-value crops."
Dan Kittle, Dow AgroSciences vice president for Research and Development, made an interesting comment during the announcement as well. He notes that this technology may or may not be called a "GMO" depending on how it's used and the eventual finished product.
"There are a lot of solutions using this precision technology and some will not put you in a situation where you can have transgenics," Kittle says. "Right now we're working with, and engaged in education of the regulatory path on this technology. This does not fit the old models. There is an opportunity here as a positive step because of the precision of this technology."
It will be a few years before the first products using this technology come to market, but Dow AgroSciences says use of Exzact can shorten development of new traits by as much as two years. Advancing higher food production, boosting fuel output from plants and providing new pharmaceuticals from plants could get easier with this announcement.