Private genetics company Inari is taking on big-name seed giants with a unique genetic improvement strategy and off-patent intellectual property.
By the end of 2019, Inari says it will be offering eight corn hybrids. The products will be delivered to growers through independent seed companies in North America.
“When we look at our catalog of Inari hybrids, we’re in the ballpark in terms of yield with the top available varieties from competitors,” says Mark Stowers, chief operations officer and president of Inari in North America, referring to the company’s conventional corn options.
In Indiana, its genetics are especially competitive. Stowers says the company wants to offer unique and localized genetic choices for growers in the future.
Inari took over and expanded a former Dow Agrosciences site at Purdue University’s Research Park in 2018. The Seed Foundry there has greenhouses where the company focuses on its main crops: corn, soybeans, wheat and tomatoes. With tomatoes, Inari achieved up to 140% yield increase in field trials by adjusting the expression of fruit size and other genes simultaneously.
Likewise, with corn, the company has adjusted expression for up to four genes at once, but believes it will be able to make up to 100 edits in the future. That’s a far cry from transgenics, where a few foreign genes are inserted and add atomic weight. Inari uses techniques called promoter and epigenetic fine-tuning that allow it to alter multiple groups of genes within a genome at once without adding foreign material.
Under the U.S. definition of genetic modification, because no foreign material is inserted, Inari’s gene editing on conventional varieties would qualify as non-GMO.
“Promoter and epigenetic fine-tuning are like a dimmer switch,” Stowers says, adding the techniques allow for greater yield increases than the close to 1% annual industry average with soybeans.
While the company doesn’t sell soybean genetics yet, it’s working on high-performing conventional soybean varieties. The Roundup Ready system, LibertyLink and other weed management platforms are still under patent, but Inari has access to the first generation of glyphosate-tolerant technology, which comes with about a 5% sacrifice in yield expectations.
In 2025, the SmartStax intellectual property Bayer and Corteva mutually hold will come off-patent, allowing Inari to further develop trait options. But its focus for now is in improving conventional varieties in new ways.
Take, for example, short corn: On paper, it should yield more because the crops can be planted at a higher density and get more sunlight. But short corn options across the industry haven’t lived up to the yields of more traditional workhorse hybrids because the expression of multiple genes hasn’t been optimized to compensate for major changes in the plant’s architecture.
“We’ll have to look at root and stalk strength, because you’ll have a heavier ear on a shorter plant, and the potential for that plant to fall down is great. So, we will focus on giving it strength,” Stowers says, concluding the decade-long project can be shortened to three years with Inari’s blend of editing technologies.