Weed control is one of the greatest challenges farmers face in producing crops. Weeds compete not only with crops for water, nutrients, sunlight and space, but also harbor insect and disease pests, clog irrigation and drainage systems, undermine crop quality, and deposit weed seeds into crop harvests. Poorly controlled weeds significantly increase farmers’ cost while reducing crop yield and quality. With the constant need to increase yields, herbicides are an important component of commercial food production and account for 70% of all agricultural chemical use.
Herbicide tolerance is a plant’s ability to withstand a particular chemical herbicide. Herbicide tolerance traits in crops can provide sustainable alternatives to the use of alternative crop protection chemistries to control weeds and increase crop yields. Weed resistance is a growing problem in the United States and other countries in the world. As weeds develop resistance to herbicides they become more difficult to control which can reduce yields and the quality of crops. The use of different chemistries has been an important tool to control herbicide resistant weeds.
Herbicide tolerant traits may offer farmers a vital tool in managing weeds effectively during crop production. The deployment of herbicide tolerant traits in wheat significantly lags other major crops, and wheat production is constantly faced with yield-robbing weeds that can result in lower yield and higher dockage costs at the elevator. In the United States, nearly 90% of corn and soybean crops contain at least one herbicide tolerant trait. In contrast, no broad acre GMO herbicide tolerant trait has been developed for wheat, largely due to the complexity of the wheat genome. Without effective control, weeds can lower winter wheat yield by up to 23% on average worldwide, and in turn significantly decreases profitability potential.
We are pioneering the development of herbicide tolerant traits in wheat without the use of foreign DNA, built using our TALEN® gene-editing technology. Herbicides act by inhibiting the activity of certain plant-encoded proteins that promote plant growth. We aim to achieve herbicide tolerance by specifically making a subtle repair to prevent herbicides from being able to recognize and block functions of these proteins, such that the edited plant survives the application of the herbicide. Our product candidate will contain no foreign DNA.
We believe this solution, if successfully developed and commercialized, will have the potential to increase the farmer’s yield and revenue. Accordingly, we believe our herbicide tolerant trait would have broad appeal and applicability into the 76 million acres of wheat that are grown in North America each year and potentially into the over 500 million acres grown worldwide. One industry source has suggested that there can be up to $71 per acre of loss for wheat due to weeds. Given the amount of wheat acreage in North America, products with herbicide tolerant traits represent a potential multi-billion dollar industry. This product is currently in the Discovery phase of our development process.