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Tech creates new traits without GMOs

The difference in someone asking you to be “quiet” or telling you you’re “quite” the nice guy comes down to the placement of one letter. But one letter changes the meaning — and could mean the difference between a smile and a frown.

The same principle explains a technology that lets the plant’s natural gene repair affect a change in its DNA sequence. It allows plants to change structure within their own genome, creating such traits within the same genome as herbicide tolerance, disease resistance and stress tolerance.

The technology is due to come to the market in flax in Canada, is being tested in herbicide-tolerant canola and could open up non-GMO trait breakthroughs in rice and wheat.

Cibus Global, which developed the technology about a decade ago, likens the breakthrough to a “spell-checker” in a word-processing program. It was first developed using a mammalian system in a lab at Cornell University. “In the plant, we can use this electronic ‘spell-checker’ to change specific genetic markers and create a new phenotype, just like a spell-checker can change the spelling of words,” says Greg Gocal, vice president of research at Cibus Global.

Every plant has a “spell-checking mechanism” in its DNA code. For example, when a plant is attacked at the cell level, a natural DNA repair system kicks in, making changes that allow the plant to survive. This is the same process responsible for natural mutations. Cibus Global generates a specific trait, and then makes the changes to varieties that are nearing commercialization.

Cibus Global is working with farmer consortiums, seed companies and ag chemical companies to pair traits with suitable crops.

“We can get to the same outcomes in many cases as a transgenic, without the regulatory hurdles,” Gocal says. The USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has ruled that the technology is no different from regular plant breeding.

“For rice, we can use our technology to generate a product that’s herbicide-tolerant, similar to Clearfield, or address sheath blight,” he says. “The potential to change any letter in the genome will help us create traits naturally such as herbicide resistance or disease resistance.”

Learn more about Cibus Global at


Changing sequences: James Radtke, vice president, product development, examines corn in the Cibus Greenhouse. The firm changes gene sequences within the plant.


breakthrough tech: Researchers at Cibus have been using a breakthrough gene method for about a decade.
All photos courtesy of Cibus

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.