Biotech future strong within BASF
We all know it will not be easy to feed 7 billion people. The question is, will the world swallow the answer if it is genetically modified (GM)?
"The future must include GM technology to meet the challenge in a sustainable way," says Peter Eckes, president of BASF Plant Science. A July 2011 poll of consumers and farmers by BASF shows food security and environment are top of mind.
Speaking to journalists from around the world at an Agricultural Solutions Press Conference in November in Ludwigshafen, Germany, Eckes unveiled BASF’s trait pipeline. The company’s
answer to helping fill the world’s pantry is coming in the way of new traits that fight plant stresses and enhance consumer health benefits.
"We are not a seed company," Eckes says. "We have [been] and are entering into partnerships with seed companies that have the best infrastructure to bring biotechnology innovations to market." Company officials decline to comment regarding any future plans to become involved in the seed business.
Higher-yielding traits for corn, soybeans, canola, wheat, sugarcane, sugar beet and rice are in development. Drought-tolerant corn and cotton traits are also in the technology portfolio.
Eckes says the company has established unique ways to understand and evaluate gene functions that bring traits to market faster. In corn, for example, BASF scientists have used a metabolite profiling platform to prove that their best gene candidate reprograms the plant’s central metabolism. The gene allows growth to continue under stress by providing more sugars and lipids.
Within a year of discovery, BASF was able to enter into collaboration with Monsanto to develop the corn trait. Other trait technology partners include Bayer CropScience; German plant breeding giant KWS; and Brazil’s Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC), a sugarcane research center.
BASF is teaming up with Cargill to produce canola oil containing enough EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids to rival fish oil. "No plant on earth can deliver these things without such engineering," Eckes says.
GM route. In 2010, 10% of global arable land was devoted to GM crops, impacting 15 million farmers. Eckes notes that 45% of the world’s GM crops are grown in the U.S., followed by Brazil, with 17%. Spain has embraced the technology slightly, but France, the largest European agricultural country, grew no GM crops last year.
"GM crops are viewed more positively in areas where farmers have the products on their fields," Eckes says. He believes the products that have direct consumer benefits will push the needle on consumer acceptance.
Markus Heldt, president of the BASF Crop Protection division, says an innovative crop protection portfolio remains at the core of the business. The Kixor family of herbicides and Headline fungicide have been BASF’s blockbuster products. A new fungicide, Xemium, is now being launched in Europe and is scheduled for the U.S. market in coming years.
"We are looking for more than products," Heldt explains. "We are looking for innovative solutions to help farmers increase marketable yields sustainably."