Increased yields with better CO2 use
By Marg Land
July 13, 2009 – BASF Plant Science and the Botanical Institute of the
University of Cologne recently announced they have entered a
cooperation in plant biotechnology.
The focus of the cooperation is on plant traits that increase the yield of crops and improve their tolerance to adverse environmental conditions, like cold, drought or salinization. The cooperation comprises both a license and an R&D agreement, which were negotiated by PROvendis, the patent marketing company for North Rhine-Westphalia’s universities.
Together with BASF Plant Science , Dr. Ulf-Ingo Flügge and Dr. Verónica G. Maurino from the Botanical Institute of the University of Cologne are working on optimizing the energy generation of key global crops. During photosynthesis, the process where carbon dioxide (CO2) is converted into carbohydrates (e.g. starch), many plants don't make optimum use of the CO2 in the air. Certain types of plants, like corn, are able to use more CO2 through an additional metabolic process.
The objective of the current research project is to transfer this biochemical mechanism to other plants. The Cologne-based researchers have already been successful in genetically modifying a test plant, the so-called thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). Thanks to the inserted genes, the plant produces special enzymes that ensure that the plant uses more carbon dioxide resulting in the production of more biomass.
"The commercial benefits of our discovery are obvious. Plants which produce more biomass also provide higher yields," explained Dr. Ulf-Ingo Flügge from the Botanical Institute of the University of Cologne. "We are delighted to be cooperating with BASF Plant Science and we intend to transfer our findings to key crops," added the researcher.
His team has also been able to lower the stress sensitivity of plants. Genes have been identified that enable the thale cress to grow well in very salty soil.
"Higher-yielding plants are key to increasing efficiency in agriculture. We will further develop the promising findings from the University of Cologne with the aim of bringing higher-yielding plants to the market," said Dr. Jürgen Logemann, vice president of technology management at BASF Plant Science . The timeline for bringing plant biotech innovations to the market is approximately 10 years. Financial details of the cooperation have not been disclosed.