Ceres multi-gene traits increase yields in hybrid corn trials

By Ceres Inc. | January 14, 2015

Ceres Inc., an agricultural biotechnology company, recently announced favorable results from its biotech corn evaluations in China, where a second year of field trials demonstrated significant yield advantages under normal and drought conditions. Corn provides an additional out-licensing opportunity for traits that Ceres is developing for use in sorghum and other crops.

Ceres reported that its multi-gene combinations in corn achieved an approximately 25 percent yield advantage over controls in many of its research-scale field evaluations involving two different hybrids. These replicated field evaluations were conducted in two different climatic regions in China through the company's development collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Field evaluations represent a critical stage in the development of biotech crop traits, as they provide greater insight into how traits may perform in an agricultural setting.   The company has selected its best multi-gene combinations for broader field evaluations in 2015.

Ceres President and CEO Richard Hamilton said, "We believe this is an exciting area for value creation. Our strategy is to focus on optimized gene combinations that can show large, step increases in trait performance."

Ceres Chief Scientific Advisor Richard Flavell indicated that the strategies behind these results represent an important step forward in crop biotechnology. Ceres has optimized the expression of its novel genes in a more precise and sophisticated manner than is usually the case. In addition, company scientists believe that combining genes together, to either create a stronger trait or combine complementary traits, provides the best approach to generate high impact advantages, such as increased grain yield or drought tolerance.

Ceres also announced that it has developed a new, high-throughput, low-cost approach to empirically evaluate large numbers of promising genes and related control components and to select the best combinations for deployment in a crop. The company is deploying this multi-gene trait development system internally and believes there may be opportunities to out-license the system, known as iCODE, to other crop biotechnology companies.

"Double-digit percentage increases in highly bred corn hybrids are urgently needed in a crop where a few percentage point increases are the norm," Flavell said. "The combining of impactful plant genes with optimized expression patterns, where the best combinations are discovered using the iCODE system pioneered by Ceres, may well provide such increases and shape crop biotechnology for years to come."

Ceres has previously out-licensed its genetic technology and genes to other seed companies for use in rice, corn, soybean and sugarbeet, among other crops. The company's field evaluations of its biotech traits in multiple crops have largely confirmed results obtained previously by the company in greenhouse and laboratory settings. Favorable results from a research setting are not a guarantee of future commercial performance, and further evaluations will be necessary to confirm these results in more locations and corn hybrids.

Corn is the most widely produced feed grain in the United States. At today's corn prices and acreage in North America, a 1 percent increase in yield is worth over a half-billion dollars annually at the farm gate.