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Monsanto’s transgenic drought tolerant maize approved

Agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto has received the green light from the US Department of Agriculture to sell its transgenic drought-tolerant maize (corn) MON 87460. The move marks the start of a new wave of biotech plants to reach the market engineered with traits tolerant to environmental stresses such as heat, and soils starved of nitrogen, phosphorus and other essential nutrients (Reuters).
This second generation of transgenic crops moves beyond what until now has been a mainstay of the ag-biotech business: developing and selling pesticide- or herbicide-resistance crops, such as Monsanto’s Bt maize (See Nature‘s feature on agricultural biotechnology companies and news on drought tolerant crops). Monsanto will conduct on-farm trials this year to give farmers experience with the product.
“Our drought system is designed to help farmers mitigate the risk of yield loss when experiencing drought stress, primarily in areas of annual drought stress,” said Hobart Beeghly, Monsanto’s US product management lead. Monsanto developed the crop in collaboration with the German chemical company BASF. They did so by inserting a drought-tolerant gene from the bacteria Bacillus subtilis into the crop’s genome. The trait reduces the limiting effect of drought conditions on the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and its yield. But it won’t save the crop in extreme drought conditions. Monsanto spokesperson Danielle Stuart told the agriculture news site Capital Press that the technology could have applications beyond maize.”There is a possibility the gene could be used in other crops and Monsanto has a robust pipeline that evaluates many genes,” she said in an e-mail.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons. Courtesy of Christian Fischer.


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