Sapphire Energy Anticipates “Significant” Revenue Stream From Monsanto Alliance

3/9/11Follow @bvbigelow

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valuable traits for the use of algae in commercial agriculture, including crop protection, yield enhancement, stress tolerance, harvestability—all the things that allow you to produce and grow a crop like algae at low cost and enormous scale,” the Sapphire CEO said. “They are very interested in things like yield enhancement and higher stress tolerance for their primary products. What we are providing to them is a pipeline of trait genetics from our algal research that they are going to explore” in corn, rice, soybeans, and other high-value food crops.

In fact, Pyle said Sapphire has identified a number of algal traits, including genes for yield enhancement and stress tolerance, which it is making available to Monsanto. Sapphire has been using high throughput screening tools to identify hundreds of thousands of traits in various algal strains. The San Diego startup says it has not deployed an genetically modified organism into open ponds at its test and development site, but Sapphire has done extensive genetic engineering of algae in the laboratory.

“We face a common goal in looking for ways to improve upon an organism’s ability to achieve greater productivity under optimal and sub-optimal environmental conditions,” Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, says in a prepared statement.

Monsanto is a leading producer of genetically engineered seed (critics like Greenpeace contend that the company provides the technology in 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered seeds). In comparison to algae, which are single-cell organisms, corn and other crop plants have a huge number of genes.

“What they share in common that’s very exciting is all of the core metabolic machinery—photosynthesis, carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation, amino acid synthesis, sugar synthesis, oil synthesis, all of those things,” Pyle said.

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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