Bayer and the French biotech company Meiogenix will work together to advance the development of Meiogenix’s plant breeding and genome editing technologies with the hope of improving food crops for farmers.
For many years, the only way to improve characteristics such as yield and nutritional value of crops was through selective breeding, which can be an extremely slow process. Meiogenix is one of a number of biotech companies that aim to speed up the process.
Giacomo Bastianelli, CEO at Meiogenix, told me: “Meiogenix’s technologies accelerate the plant breeding process through modulating and targeting meiotic recombination.” Meiotic recombination is the key natural process that generates genetic diversity when plant varieties are crossed.
Meiogenix aims to supercharge the genetic diversity generated from meiotic recombination in crops. To do this, the company is designing a synthetic fusion protein that triggers meiotic recombination. Meiogenix then delivers a transgene encoding this protein into plant cells using a technique called agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer. Once the transgene is in the cells, the fusion protein makes a target region of the plant’s genome undergo meiotic recombination more often than normal.
The collaboration with Bayer will allow Meiogenix to “further develop its technology that targets meiotic recombination and expand it to allow a wider control of this important biological process,” Bastianelli remarked.
The improvements will allow breeders to develop crop varieties with positive traits that can be grown more efficiently and sustainably while still taking advantage of the natural genetic diversity of wild varieties.
Bastianelli believes that farmers, final consumers, and the environment will all benefit from the advance in innovation that the collaboration between Bayer and Meiogenix will bring.
Jeremy Williams, Head of Plant Biotechnology, Crop Science Research & Development (R&D) at Bayer said: “Farmers need innovative solutions as they face limited natural resources and a changing climate. Access to Meiogenix’s proprietary technologies could improve the precision and speed with which our breeders enhance crops, which could ultimately accelerate those solutions for the diverse needs of people and our planet.”
However, this technology will also fall under Europe’s restrictive regulations on genetically modified organisms, which also currently include those made using CRISPR. It remains to be seen how these regulations will affect the roll-out of this technology.
Laura Cowen is a freelance medical journalist. Her background is in medical microbiology, with a particular interest in public health and infectious diseases. Outside of work she enjoys roller skating, trips to the theatre, and exploring the UK and Europe with her family in their new motorhome Bella.
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