Making soybeans resistant to fungal diseases is the goal of one St. Louis-based agricultural biotech startup company.
The United Soybean Board recently awarded Plastomics a competitive grant to develop disease-resistant soybeans. The biotech company's next-generation, novel-trait delivery system uses the natural powerhouse of the cell — the chloroplast — to create higher-yielding crops for farmers.
“Fungal diseases are a major threat to soybean production, causing more than $4 billion of crop losses per year in the U.S. alone,” Jeffrey Staub, founder and chief scientific officer of Plastomics, says in a news release. “With support from USB, we will use our chloroplast delivery technology to make soybeans that are resistant to economically important soybean fungal diseases.”
He says the company wants to leverage technology to create a “competitive advantage for U.S. soy growers.”
Tech at work
Plastomics will work in collaboration with Dilip Shah, associate member at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, on the project. Shah is well-known for his research into fungal diseases that infect plants. Both Plastomics and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center are located in the 39 North Innovation District.
According to the company, its novel-trait delivery technology provides a more efficient and sustainable way to add valuable traits, enabling crops that better withstand the pressure of insects, diseases and weeds, while delivering higher yields.
The technology simplifies product development and reduces the time and cost to bring biotech crops to market. Crops previously unable to take advantage of the benefit of biotech traits now will have access because the next-generation technology eliminates outcrossing concerns from pollen.
“The USB-funded work at Plastomics provides out-of-the-box thinking and presents a new solution to help soybean growers fight fungal disease resistance,” says Tom Oswald, United Soybean Board director from Cleghorn, Iowa. “The soy checkoff looks at multiple angles to solve or reduce problems for farmers. This investment will protect plant health while increasing yields normally lost to diseases — ensuring continued profitability to U.S. soybean growers.”
United Soybean Board’s 78 volunteer farmer-directors work on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers to achieve maximum value for their soy checkoff investments. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds in programs and partnerships to drive soybean innovation beyond the bushel and increase preference for U.S. soy.
That preference is based on U.S. soybean meal and oil quality and the sustainability of U.S. soybean farmers. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.