2017 Summary of Global Seed Industry
Mar. 13, 2018
- Jason Zhang
Jason Zhang, Editor of AgroPages. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past year, new breeding technique, represented by CRISPR boomed worldwide, which became a continued subject of discussion, being still a big controversy whether it can be classified as a GMO or not. As far as research issues are concerned, yield, stress resistance, and quick breeding processes remained hot topics, and were reported extensively by the media. Below, AgroPages summarizes and analyses hot topics within the seed industry in 2017.
Booming of gene editing
2017 was an important year for gene editing in agriculture. At the beginning of the year, with a judgment from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard could retain its patent of CRISPR-Cas9 that was granted in 2014. The judgment basically settled the patent dispute concerning the revolutionary gene editing.
From a country perspective, NCTP of Israel announced in March 2017 that genetically edited plants will not be subject to GMO regulations provided that no exogenous DNA is brought into the final plant genome. In June, the Japanese National Agricultural and Food Research Organization conducted a gene editing-based rice field trial, a first of the kind in Japan. In September, the United States Department of Agriculture approved the non-GMO status of the genetically edited high-oil camelina. Furthermore, new breeding techniques were taken up for discussion again in Europe, where Holland urged the European Union (EU) to discuss whether the new technique-based genetically edited crops could be exempted from GMO regulations.
At the company level, in the past year, several industry giants reached agreements on patent licensing:
- Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer respectively obtained from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard the authorization of CRISPR-Cas9 for application to agriculture; Monsanto obtained from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard the worldwide licensing of the latest CRISPR-Cpf1 for application to agriculture.
- DuPont Pioneer obtained from ERS Genomics and Vilnius University an exclusive licensing of CRISPR-Cas for application to agriculture.
- DuPont Pioneer reached an agreement with CasZyme to work together on the development of a new editing tool under CRISPR-Cas.
- DuPont reached an agreement with the Danforth Center to provide Danforth Center with DuPont’s proprietary information, technical competence and research experience in CRISPR-Cas breeding, which will help modify crops and ensures food safety.
- DuPont Pioneer cooperated with Caribou Biosciences in the research and development of SITE-Seq, which is a brand new technique for genomic mapping of CRISPR-Cas9 off-target cleavage. Compared with other techniques, this technique produces a higher resolution.
- Monsanto announced worldwide cooperation with ToolGen with respect to the CRISPR platform.
Additionally, emerging enterprises, such as Calyxt and Benson Hill Biosystems, have developed rapidly in gene editing. Following its successful IPO, patent for Calyx's gene editing tool was granted by the United States Patent and Trademak Office. In the meantime, its genetically edited alfalfa products, developed in cooperation with S&W Seed, were announced as not being subject to GMO regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture. Benson Hill Biosystem raised $25 million B round financing, and was named 2018 AI 100 by CB Insights (only two agricultural companies on the list). In 2017, the company launched its new editing tool CRISPR 3.0, as well as a gene editing platform that gives full support to crop improvement processes.
Global acquisitions and divestments / Chinese role
In 2017, three major global mergers drew to a close. In June, ChemChina announced the acquisition of the world’s largest pesticide and third largest seed company Syngenta. At the end of August, the equal merge between Dow Chemical and DuPont came to an end with the establishment of DowDuPont, which has a market value of approximately $130 billion. Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto is still in the process, which so far has passed the US Committee on Foreign Investment checks, but is opposed by the EU. Due to monopolistic reservations, Bayer has to divest itself of more businesses.
These primary mergers have at the same time generated a divestment and business restructuring. In the seed industry, Syngenta sold its companies in Oahu and Kauai, Hawaii, to Hartung Brothers, its global leek seed business to Hazera, the global sugar beet seed business to DLF, and the three rapeseed varieties (SY4157, SY4166 and SY4187) in Canada to BrettYoung. After divesting these businesses, Syngenta has plans to go for seed-oriented acquisitions in the future. In early November, Syngenta acquired the Nidera seed business of China COFCO International.
In the course of Bayer's acquisition of Monsanto, Bayer divested its seed business (inclusive of LibertyLink® trait technology, rapeseed, cotton and soybean trait researches) and herbicide business to BASF. The divested seed business in 2016 was estimated to generate sales of EUR830 million. BASF, which never engaged in sales of seeds, has now stepped into the seed market, and has become a global top 10 seed company. In light of the oppositional altitude of the EU, more divestments are foreseeable from the two companies.
The merger between Dow and DuPont has resulted in the divestment of the Brazilian corn seed business of Dow AgroSciences, with a market value of $1.1 billion, which include Sementes & Biotecnologia Brasil Ltda, the right of use of Brazilian corn germplasm and the brand of Morgan, as well as the brand of Dow Sementes, within a specified time frame. This part of the divestment has been taken over by China's Longping High-Tech via a collaboration with CITIC's agricultural foundation. With the strong financial support, Longping High-Tech has also successively acquired some Chinese seed companies, such as Hunan Golden Rice, Hubei Huimin Agro Technology, Beijing Sunrise Agritech and Hebei Universe, and thus become the largest Chinese native seed company. The consolidated sales of the company is expected to propel it into the global top 10 seed enterprises.
The completion of these primary mergers has caused great changes in the global seed industry, where Chinese native companies have stepped into the global seed arena. Among the global top 10 seed enterprises, two Chinese companies have shown up, Syngenta and Longping High-Tech. Moreover, the merged Bayer-Monsanto and DowDuPont will become more prominent over others, thus forming a "two-superpower & eight-stronger" structure. In 2018, three major mergers will soon come to an end. It is foreseeable that 2018 will not be a silent year, as future mergers will still continue, either resulting from Syngenta's seed acquisition activity and Bayer/Monsanto's further divestments, or because of the presence of the newcomer BASF and the rise of Longping High-Tech.
Crop breeding research achievements of 2017 are best reflected by the keywords "increase of yield", "quick breeding process", "enhancement of stress resistance", "genomic mapping", "gene editing" and "epigenetics".
Increase of yield/enhancement of stress resistance
All prime technical institutions and breeding companies still focus their research on the enhancement of stress resistance and achievement of yield potential. In the past year, a number of research papers were published in primary academic journals.
Researchers of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) found that reduction of spike-ethylene could increase wheat yields by 10 to 15% in warm locations. Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have raised the possibility of probiotic, microbe treatments for plants to increase their efficient use of phosphate, which will help increase yield. Researchers of VIB-UGent discovered a gene named PLA1 that significantly increases seed yield in maize, plant growth, and the size of plant organs such as leaves and cob. With regards to research on stress resistance, researches are primarily concentrated on the discovery of a new gene for improvement in a plant's capabilities of resistance to disease, drought, high temperature and chemicals. For example, the research team of Purdue University and Dow AgroSciences pinpointed a gene called Rps11 that confers strong resistance to multiple types of Phytophthora sojae. Researchers of North Carolina State University have found the gene - caffeoyl-CoA O-methyltransferase - that seems to confer partial resistance to Southern leaf blight and gray leaf spot, and possibly to Northern leaf blight.
Quick breeding process
How to speed up the breeding process and shorten breeding cycles remain an important focus for breeding practitioners. In 2017, researchers of Syngenta achieved a breakthrough in their seed breeding research. The research team published their breakthrough breeding process using the Matrilineal (MTL) gene, which can induce haploid induction, and can be applied to more crops in the future, thus speeding up the breeding process significantly.
Additionally, there were innovations from some researchers in the past year. For instance, Canadian Light Source and the University of Saskatchewan researchers used a simple nondestructive method to screen hundreds of wheat leaf samples in a day, reducing the time and cost associated with traditional breeding programs.
In 2017, scientists completed gene sequencing of Arabica coffee, sunflower, Wild Emmer wheat, stevia, pumpkin, and Aegilops tauschii. The gene sequencing programs, which are usually led by conventional scientific research institutions, have been actively pursued by biotechnological companies, such as KeyGene of Holland and NRGene of Israel. The complete genome maps will help researchers better utilize genetic tools to enhance a crop’s adaptability and yield.
Please download AgroPages' latest magazine - Annual Review 2017 to see more.