A joint team of scientists from Monsanto Company and BASF has announced the discovery of a naturally-occurring gene that can help corn plants combat drought conditions and offer yield stability during periods of inadequate water supplies.
The product will be the first biotechnology-derived drought-tolerant crop in the world, the companies said in a release, adding that they plan to use the gene in their first-generation drought-tolerant corn product, which is designed to provide yield stability to farmers.
"BASF and Monsanto's drought-tolerant corn is the first result of our plant biotechnology collaboration of which I am very proud," said Jurgen Schweden, senior vice president R&D, BASF Plant Science. "With our complementing technologies, we are able to bring more and better products to farmers faster," he added.
''The drought-tolerant corn contains the cspB gene, from Bacillus subtilis. CspB codes for an RNA chaperone, which are commonly occurring protein molecules that bind to RNAs and facilitate their function,'' the companies said in a release.
''The gene was first identified in bacteria subjected to cold stress conditions and further research has demonstrated that cspB helps plants cope with drought stress,'' the release added.
Monsanto scientists have published those findings in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal, `Plant Physiology'.
''In corn, cspB works by helping the plant maintain growth and development during times of inadequate water supply. A corn plant is particularly vulnerable to drought during reproductive growth stages. By mitigating the impact of drought on the plant, cspB helps provide yield stability. Improved yield stability is of significant value to farmers faced with unpredictable rainfall,'' the release said.
The scientists said the discovery is particularly important as it comes at a time when recent studies, including one by the US National Academy of Sciences, are warning of declining crop yields and global food shortages as a result of climate change.
According to a United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation report prepared for ministers of the G-8, the number and duration of dry spells, especially in already drought-prone areas, is expected to increase.
Monsanto and BASF noted that the drought-tolerant corn product is targeted for as early as 2012 pending appropriate regulatory approvals. Both companies also recently announced that they have completed regulatory submissions for cultivation in the United States and Canada, and for import to Mexico, the European Union and Colombia. Submissions in other import markets will follow in the months to come.