Monsanto Co., the company that pioneered the commercialization of genetically modified seeds, is expanding further into the new world of gene-editing technology.
The St. Louis-based company said in a statement Thursday it reached a global licensing agreement with the Broad Institute, part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University for the use of their Crispr-Cas genome-editing techniques.
Gene-editing technology, which the company has likened to a “search and replace function,” typically modifies an organism’s DNA without introducing foreign genes. It’s attractive for Monsanto and its rivals because it promises to cut development costs while also being less regulated than more established genetic-engineering techniques. For example, Crispr has already been used to develop a mushroom that resists browning as it ages, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it won’t regulate the variety.
Earlier this year, Monsanto entered into licensing agreements to use gene-editing technologies developed by Germany’s Nomad Bioscience GmbH and the Israeli company TargetGene Biotechnologies Ltd. DuPont Co. recently established a plant-breeding platform based on Crispr that’s focused on corn, and plans to expand it to include soybeans, rice, wheat and canola. Dow Chemical Co. has also licensed gene-editing tools, and is developing corn and soybeans that can repel insects without pesticides and can tolerate herbicides.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, announced last week that it agreed to be acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG for $66 billion.