If they weren't previously, Monsanto's DroughtGard products are now squarely on the radar of most every U.S. farmer.
Most know it's the first biotech product designed to mitigate the effects of drought. Most also realize corn won't grow without water. Don't expect 200-bushel yields in conditions like last year. In an investor presentation, chief technology officer Robb Fraley says 2012 trials showed more than a 5-bushel advantage with DroughtGard in instances where water is limited in the Western Great Plains.
"It's also important to point out there's no yield drag in a non-stress year," adds Mark Lawson, Monsanto's yield and stress research and development lead.
Most I-state farmers are also probably keenly aware that DroughtGard products will be launched in the Western Great Plains first. Next year the first hybrids will be grown in Monsanto's limited commercial launch.
What many farmers may not know is how DroughtGard works. Just how did a collaboration between Monsanto and BASF bring agriculture a plant that uses water more efficiently?
As with most biotech discoveries, DroughtGard's story starts with a bacterium. Specifically, it's called Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium that is used in the production of natto from soybeans.
From here, BASF and Monsanto scientists experimented with a specific gene, cspB, from Bacillus subtilis. They found cspB improves cold tolerance in bacteria. Hence, cspB stands for cold shock protein B.
Further investigation revealed cspB codes for an RNA chaperone. Lawson says RNA chaperones help cells function more effectively when they're under stress. Using this knowledge, they engineered the plant to protect against drought stress, a much bigger threat than cold tolerance in the U.S.