As the world’s most populous country, China must have a reliable food supply to feed its 1.3 billion citizens, and a laboratory in Indianapolis is now playing a key role to help accomplish that. Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences has forged its first major partnership with the Asian country to translate advancements made in other crops to a Chinese staple: rice.
Dow forged the agreement with the Institute of Crop Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (ICS-CAAS), one of the government’s leading agricultural research organizations. The collaboration calls for Dow to share—royalty-free—its EXZACT Precision Genome Editing Technology to advance rice production in China.
EXZACT is a technology that allows scientists to make precise changes to specific genes in plants to give crops improved traits, such as disease and pest resistance or a healthier nutritional profile. Dow External Technology Development Leader Steve Webb says EXZACT has established a footing in corn, soybean, canola and wheat production.
“We’ve done some preliminary work in rice, but now we have a chance to not just be playing with the technology, but focus on developing products,” says Webb. “We’re also excited about this opportunity, because it gives us a chance to work with some world-class scientists in rice, a globally important crop.”
Webb says the Chinese institute sees great value in using plant technology to improve the country’s competitiveness in agricultural technology and to ramp up rice production “in a sustainable way.”
“It’s a strategic crop for China; they’re concerned about making sure they have a reliable, safe and robust supply of rice,” says Webb. “They’ve identified a number of traits they’re interested in modifying for agronomic purposes—improving the productivity of their agriculture.”
While the benefits to China are obvious, Dow says it will benefit in numerous ways as well; it can fine-tune the science for EXZACT’s use in rice, partner with leading Chinese scientists studying the crop and maintain commercial rights for the rest of the world.
“The short-term benefit is work is being done in our labs in Indianapolis in support of this collaboration,” says Webb. “Longer term, any products that come out of this—technology or traits—we’re in a position to leverage them to the rest of the world.”
While Webb laughs, “we don’t grow a lot of rice in Indiana,” he notes what the research team learns in China will be applicable to genome-editing technology for crops grown in Hoosier soil.
“Genome-editing technology is a theme that we’re building into soybeans and have built into corn, and we’re using it to look at product development here at Dow AgroSciences,” says Webb. “Any further knowledge we gain from China can be directly leveraged for corn and soybeans, and fundamental basics of what we’ve learned in corn and soybeans can be leveraged for rice; it’s a technology that’s universal to plants.”
Dow says the relationship with China is being replicated around the globe; the company also has a collaboration in Australia focused on using EXZACT in wheat, canola and forage grasses.
“Collaboration is part of our over-arching strategy at Dow. Our philosophy, which really drives our innovation machine, is these global collaborations,” says Webb. “EXZACT has been a part of a number of efforts we’ve had around the globe to accelerate innovation and crop improvements worldwide.”
Both parties believe the partnership is mutually beneficial: China will cultivate a better strategy for food security, and Dow will plant the seeds for future business in rice, emphasizing its belief that “it takes a global village to bring technology forward.”
Webb says global collaborations are part of Dow’s philosophy.
Webb says China has experience with genome-editing in other crops.