With $37M Investment and New Corporate Partner, San Diego’s Cibus to Develop Enhanced Crop Strains for Europe

9/21/09Follow @bvbigelow

Agricultural products company Makhteshim-Agan of Tel Aviv, Israel, says it has formed a strategic development alliance and is investing $37 million over the next five years in San Diego-based Cibus Global, a privately held agricultural biotech company founded in 2001.

Under the joint development partnership, Cibus will use its proprietary technology (which offers an alternative approach to inserting foreign genes to create genetically modified crops) to develop new plant traits in five unidentified crops for the European market. As part of the related agreement, Makhteshim-Agan, or MAI, will make its investments based on Cibus’s progress—and gradually acquire a 50.1 percent stake.

Row CropsCibus describes its technology, known as Rapid Trait Development System, or RTDS, as a “smart-breeding technology” that introduces desirable genetic traits in a plant by using directed mutagenesis, a process that takes advantage of mechanisms of gene repair. The company says that every time a cell copies its DNA, it makes “scrivener” errors, akin to typographical errors in the genetic code. Such variations are common, and according to Cibus, are part of natural variation. Cibus says its technology uses the DNA repair machinery that corrects such typos, and directs it instead to make changes in a specific way that produces the desired trait in the targeted gene.

Cibus hopes its approach will be acceptable to environmental groups and activists opposed to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The European market, in particular, has resisted introduction of genetically modified crops.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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