Glyphosate-resistant seed has transformed U.S. agriculture. Now researchers are using "gene shuffling" to develop the next generation of herbicide resistant seed.
Gene shuffling technology is highly sophisticated, yet based on the simple principle of transforming genes with poor trait properties into genes with high value. That process begins with identifying genes with potentially valuable traits, such as glyphosate tolerance.
Researchers initially found a few genes with a weak enzyme that inactivated glyphosate. Through a repetitive process similar to traditional plant breeding, researchers began to improve this trait. Finally, at about a 2,000-fold improvement level, they had a gene that provided plants with a sufficient level of herbicide resistance.
This improved gene is being incorporated into Pioneer elite germplasm for further testing. Although commercial introduction is several years away, the technology will offer a number of benefits for growers using glyphosate-resistant production systems.
"The introduction of this proprietary glyphosate-resistant trait will give growers expanded options to choose among the glyphosate-resistant traits," says Linda Castle, research coordinator at the Pioneer Research campus in Redwood City, Calif. "The glyphosate-resistant trait will be stacked with sulfonylurea herbicide resistance to provide additional options for sound weed resistance management and to fill key weed gaps."
Gene-shuffling technology may lead to a wider application window and greater range of rates, which will give growers more application flexibility without having to change their management programs.
"Growers experienced with glyphosate-resistant crops should see a seamless transition in management practices when changing to the glyphosate-resistant trait," says Castle. "In addition, they will be able to apply one or a custom blend of DuPont sulfonylurea herbicides over the top of the crop for added weed control and resistance-management options."
Yields of soybeans with the new gene will not be held back as they are by today's glyphosate resistant traits, a difference university research suggests could be more than five percent. By combining this with industry leading soybean yields from Pioneer, farmers will enjoy even more significant yield advantages, along with improved weed control options.
In addition to improving weed control in soybeans, gene shuffling technology can be applied to any crop to address a broad range of trait optimization objectives.
"In some cases the same optimized gene can be used in multiple crops, and in other cases, part of the optimization process includes crop-specific aspects," says Castle. "Gene shuffling technology should help Pioneer identify and develop a number of next-generation traits to help plants survive and perform better against agronomic and environmental stresses, including numerous diseases, plant pests and drought."