​Swiss-based Syngenta, which has its U.S. headquarters in Greensboro and its Advanced Crop Lab in Research Triangle Park, has obtained a non-exclusive license from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to use CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology for agricultural applications.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a gene-editing tool developed from a bacterial defense system against invading viruses. It allows researchers to inexpensively make precise, efficient and rapid genetic changes in an organism.

Syngenta said it will use CRISPR-Cas9 technology in various crops, including corn, soy, wheat, tomato, rice and sunflowers.

[In other news, on Monday Syngenta announced a deal to acquire Nidera Seeds which is currently owned by COFCO International. “Completion of the transaction is subject to clearance by the relevant merger-control authorities,” Syngenta said. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.]

Syngenta works to increase plant yield by developing products for insect and weed control and drought tolerance. The Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park is the company’s seeds center of excellence

“Gaining access to CRISPR-Cas9 technology will allow us to accelerate the rate of innovation in the development of new plant varieties, and bring novel traits into the hands of growers faster, and with greater efficiency,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, global head of seeds research at Syngenta. “Using this advanced technology will help us deliver on the 21st century food production challenges.”

Van Lookeren Campagne told the Biotech Center in an interview, “It’s a tool in our toolbox that will do a number of things. It can accelerate breeding by mimicking a trait we would normally bring in from a wild relative, such as virus resistance.”

It will save time in giving plants desired traits compared to doing it the traditional way, he added.

In most applications of CRISPR genome-editing, he noted, “You could do in other, completely non-regulated ways, attaining traits through wild relative breeding. This is just faster, better and cheaper.”

The first products from CRISPR gene-editing probably won’t make it into the market before the next decade, he said. “This new tool is going to revolutionize agriculture, but maybe not as fast as people think.”

Syngenta employs 28,000 people in 90 countries. It has about 500 employees in the Research Triangle.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center