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Plant Science Biotech Gets Genome Editing Technology

Dan Voytas

Dan Voytas (Cellectis Plant Sciences)

16 April 2015. Cellectis Plant Sciences, a biotechnology company in Minnesota developing higher quality crops through genetic engineering, licensed CRISPR genome editing technology from University of Minnesota. Financial details of the agreement between Cellectis and the university were not disclosed.

The technology licensed by Cellectis covers techniques known as CRISPR, short for clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, applied to genomic engineering of plants. CRISPR is adapted from a natural process used by bacteria to protect against attack by viruses, where a protein that deactivates or replaces genes binds to targeted RNA molecules generated by the genome. The RNA molecules then guide the editing protein to specific genes needing changes.

University of Minnesota applied for a patent on the technology, which lists among its inventors Dan Voytas, a plant biology professor as well as chief scientist at Cellectis, a 5 year-old enterprise based in nearby New Brighton. The company is developing new crop varieties that increase their health benefits to consumers, using genetic engineering techniques.

The company is already working with existing genome editing techniques, including zinc finger nucleases, proteins of short-chain amino acids that make it possible to modify DNA sequences through corrections or insertions into those sequences. Another genomic-editing tool used by Cellectis is transcription activator-like effector nucleases or TALENs, programmable proteins that bind to DNA sequences and like CRISPR can address specific targets in the genome.

Cellectis operates mainly by licensing its technologies and collaborating with partners to develop commercial products. The company last year entered into two agreements with Bayer CropScience for gene-editing technologies. Cellectis and Bayer were already collaborating on development of genetically engineered potatoes, soybean, and canola plants.

A collaboration with SESVanderHave, a Belgian company producing sugar beet seeds, is applying genomic engineering to speed development of new sugar beet varieties. Another collaboration, with the European oil company Total, is developing genomic engineering techniques to produce new types of algae for renewable biofuel sources.

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