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Gene-editing firm gets Monsanto investment

The seed and agrochemicals corporation acquired an equity stake in TargetGene and will use protein-expression technology from Nomad Bioscience in new agri products as it looks to access new technologies.

Seed and agrochemical giant Monsanto has acquired a minority stake in biotech firm TargetGene for an undisclosed sum, as part of its investment strategy to access new scientific technologies.

The companies are also entering an exclusive licensing agreement for Monsanto to apply TargetGene’s genome-editing platform to their products. Monsanto scientific communications manager Camille Scott declined to disclose terms of the deals, but told Agri Investor that the company’s stake in TargetGene is less than 20 percent.

TargetGene chief executive Yoel Shiboleth told Agri Investor that his company’s gene-editing platform has advantages over the CRISPR-Cas9, a system widely acknowledged as groundbreaking for medical and agricultural science.  He said that because it has two guide RNAs to flank a specific target site on a gene, it has more detailed accuracy that CRISPR-Cas9, which uses one guide RNA.

“While CRISPR-Cas9 was designed by evolution to be sufficiently precise in bacteria, which have a small genome, in order to achieve the precision necessary in a 3 billion base-pair genome such as human or a 16 billion base-pair genome of wheat, a more precise system is required,” he said.

At the same time, Monsanto has made a similar deal to apply German biotech company Nomad Bioscience’s technology to Monsanto gene-editing projects. Monsanto will explore the potential for each technology separately, said Scott.“These are techniques that we’ve been looking at for years,” said Scott.

The deal between Monsanto and Nomad includes a three-year research project on the biotech company’s protein-expression technology which Monsanto will use to develop newproducts.

“It’s not [an editing] technique itself, but it’s a technology that increases the efficiency of the genome editing process … beneficial to the speed and scale at which potential products are developed,” said Scott.

Monsanto is known for its proprietary seed products like genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” wheat, corn and soybean varieties resistant to glyphosate.

Experts in the biotech and agri sectors have told Agri Investor the development of highly efficient gene-editing technologies could facilitate the development of more complex traits across a broader variety of GE crop types.