The plant genetics work being done in both public and private laboratories is taking new shapes as more advanced genetic tools become available. One innovator is Inari with its Seed Foundry, which is bringing new tools to plant breeding work. Recently the startup announced an agreement to bring in new technology that further enhances plant breeding by managing specific gene expression in a plant.
“We talk about gene editing and computational biology, and being able to predict hybrids through gene editing,” says Mark Stowers, Inari senior vice president of products and operations. “With this new, exclusive relationship, we will not only look at the genes we turn on or off with gene editing, but we can control expression of a specific gene.”
The relationship he refers to is exclusive patent license access to technologies developed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Called Promoter Fine Tuning, the tech will help Inari researchers influence plant architecture and other ag traits by managing the extent to which specific genes are expressed.
“This is not gene editing; we’re editing parts of the DNA in front of the [target] gene, working with how it turns on or off,” Stowers says.
How would that work in a plant? Inari works with a range of crops from tomatoes to potatoes, from corn to wheat. In his example, Stowers turns to the soybean plant. “So, one of the things you want to be aware of in soybeans is how you can affect yield and the architecture of the plant,” he says.
Soybeans are an interesting crop, where pod expression and internode length become a balancing act. More pods can boost yield — but if the internode length is too long, the plants tend to lodge, creating harvest issues and crop loss.
“We can work to adjust the internode distance, working to determine how much of the determinate plant growth habit we want to express,” Stowers says. “We want to have as many pods on the plant as possible, but you have a limit on photosynthate production.” The key is to reach a balance of the right internode length and pod expression to maximize that plant’s yield.
Stowers explains that the company has done this work with tomato plants and seen results. “It worked great, and the yield increase was pretty phenomenal,” he says. “We have three years of field testing in that crop, and now we’ve moved on to soybeans, where the same genes are involved.”
He adds that in that “improved” tomato, they saw the plant canopy close faster. “We saw a more rapidly maturing plant — and if that holds true for soybeans, it helps with weed control,” he says. “And there will be other aspects of this technology we will find as we get into field tests.”
The company is at work in the lab and greenhouse on putting the tech to work. Stowers says that there will be plants in the field in 2020 to see.
Inari’s Seed Foundry aims to provide an advanced genetic research platform that other seed companies can license for use in the field. The promise of the tech already licensed by the company is faster plant development, which can lower investment cost. This latest Promoter Fine Tuning technology provides the opportunity for greater refinement of a range of traits. You can learn more at inari.com.