Products with Purpose

February 14, 2009 11:25 AM

Moisture stress robs more bushels of corn each year than any other cause. For that reason, corn hybrids that sip water have long been the Holy Grail for plant breeders.

That pipeline dream is just around the corner, according to Monsanto Company. In a recent annual update of its research and development projects, the seed giant revealed the first bioengineered drought-tolerant corn will likely find farmer fields by 2012. The trait is a product of Monsanto's $1.5 billion collaboration with Germany-based BASF.

Steve Padgette, biotechnology lead for Monsanto, says it is one of many products under development aimed at producing more on every acre while minimizing the input of energy and resources, such as water. "Intrinsic yield" soybean technology is another example.

Monsanto global oilseeds technology lead Roy Fuchs says the insertion of key genes is helping the company boost soybean yields by 6% to 10%, compared with elite conventional varieties.

Intrinsic yield technology will undergo field trials, regulatory studies and trait integration into elite soybean germplasm this summer. Once commercially available, the technology will build upon the company's Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y) platform. "We want these to be additive technologies," Fuchs says. "Farmers will likely see RR2Y, dicamba tolerance and intrinsic yield stacked onto one package."

SmartStax corn—eight different herbicide and insect-resistant genes working together—has moved into the final pipeline phase, with expected commercial launch in 2010. Monsanto plans to make SmartStax the platform on which future corn traits will be stacked and brought to market.

Padgette says Monsanto's product pipeline tracks through five phases. Tens of thousands of candidates are screened and tested for every project that makes its way through all five phases to reach market. Each phase generally lasts two years, though the time required can vary depending on regulatory approvals and technical milestones.

The discovery phase has a 5% average probability of success; phase one, 25%; phase two, 50%; phase three, 75%; and phase four, 90%. Padgette saysthe company spends about $2.6 million a day on research and development, with an average initial investment in a new product of about $100 million.

You can e-mail Pam Smith at

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