The science of gene editing is already at work to make plants perform better. The startup Yield10 Bioscience is carving its own niche in this world, working with two key areas: boosting oil content and raising the seed count for plants. This twofold work allows a plant to make more oil while not giving up yield.
“Obviously, Yield10 is a trait discovery tool, and from our perspective, the most advanced in the industry,” says Oliver Peoples, CEO, Yield10. “We are identifying unique gene targets in crops to improve performance and enhance certain features like protein and oil.”
For now, Yield10 has two key areas at work: seed increase using specific gene technologies C3003 and C3004. The company has partnered with Bayer for further development of the C3004 trait in soybeans. Another tool, C3007, is being put to work with camelina and canola to boost oil content. And recently, Yield10 announced a partnership with GDM, a Brazil-based soybean seed tech giant, now also based in Gibson City, Ill., for future products. GDM is also known for the Donmario seed brand.
Progress on canola
Recently, Yield10 got word that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has provided a positive response for its CRISPR genome-edited trait C3007 in canola plant lines. Peoples explains that this opens the door to field trials of canola varieties enhanced with the technology. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and it allows scientists to precisely edit DNA of any genome.
“We’ll be testing in the United States first,” Peoples says. “The regulatory process is evolving globally with respect to gene editing, but we’re ready in the U.S.”
Peoples says the testing will begin in 2021 in some U.S. canola areas. The crop, since it has achieved cleared status, can be grown without “destruct” requirements, which can help speed the technology to market. For now, the canola planted, along with the camelina, are all from Yield10.
Peoples says the canola market has grown to an $8 billion business, and he sees similar potential for camelina. Originally grown as a cover crop, camelina could become a cash cover crop, he says.
“There’s a large potential for the future with camelina,” he says. “This could be a new oil product, and it’s a good meal source for cattle.”
Peoples recalls that initially, work on camelina was targeted at what appeared to be a potential biodiesel market, and while that market continues forward, it has not moved as quickly as first believed. Today, the crop oil work is also focused on edible oils, which have growing market potential.
The next phase is for field trials to determine if the altered plants can hit the higher oil production targets but also maintain yield. “If you produce 10% more oil, but the plant yields 20% less, that’s not going to work,” he says. “The idea is to produce more oil and yield at the same time.”
The C3007 trait was licensed from the University of Missouri. The protein encoded by C3007 is also known as BADC and is a novel, negative regulator of the enzyme acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACCase), which is a key enzyme for producing fatty acids for oil biosynthesis. In pilot MU studies, reducing activity of the protein encoded by C3007 resulted in significantly higher oil content in seeds. Yield10 researchers have successfully used CRISPR to inactivate one or more copies of C3007 in camelina and have seen evidence of higher oil content in some lines during lab studies. And Yield10 sees potential for the process to boost oil output for canola.
A soybean partnership
Soybean seed giant GDM is angling to boost yield and oil content for the genetics it offers the market. The company can already claim that 1 of 3 bushels of soybeans produced globally contains GDM genetics, according to Ignacio Bartolomé, GDM business director for North America.
“We are working with our elite germplasm to increase yield,” says Bartolomé. “But we are also discussing other traits. Yield10 has a gene discovery platform. We are interested in looking beyond the work already being done as a partner.”
Bartolomé adds that agriculture has become more complex, and collaboration offers opportunities, because not every company has all the tools. “We want to provide full solutions to farmers, and that’s why we’re happy to collaborate with Yield10. We will focus on a new approach to gene discovery with their platform,” he adds.
Yield10’s “GRAIN” trait gene discovery platform will be teamed with GDM’s rapid trait-editing capabilities in elite varieties for discovery development and launch of novel soybean performance traits.
Under the agreement, GDM plans to work with Yield10 yield traits within its research and development program for soybeans as a strategy to improve yield performance and sustainability. The research agreement includes three novel crop yield traits in the first phase, with the potential to expand the program to more traits in the future. In greenhouse and field tests performed by Yield10 to date, these traits have shown a range of promising activities relevant to soybeans, including improved vigor, increased photosynthesis and increased seed yield.