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Crop Biotech Acquires Genomic Engineering Technology

Wheat plants

Shree Krishna Dhital (Wikimedia Commons)

29 July 2015. Calyxt Inc., a biotechnology company developing new varieties of food crops, is licensing technology from University of Minnesota for more efficient modification of plant genomes. Financial details of the agreement between Calyxt, in New Brighton Minnesota, and the university were not disclosed.

Calyxt — until recently known as Cellectis Plant Sciences — designs new types of food crops aimed at improving their health and nutritional qualities. The company’s product pipeline includes reduced transfat soybean oil, canola oil with lower saturated fats, and reduced gluten wheat using genomic editing and engineering tools created internally and in labs at University of Minnesota.

The new agreement gives Calyxt an exclusive worldwide license to genomic editing technology known as homologous recombination, a process for exchanging genetic code sequences between identical or similar DNA molecules, used for repair or replication of DNA. The licensed technology performs homologous recombination by harnessing geminiviruses, plant viruses with single strands of DNA.

The technology was developed in the lab of Dan Voytas, a plant biologist at University of Minnesota, as well as chief scientists at Calyxt. At the university, Voytas’s lab conducts research on homologous recombination, seeking more precise tools for genomic insertions, substitutions, and deletions to produce crops for food, plastics, and medicines. In a paper published in January 2014, Voytas with lab colleague Nicholas Baltes and others showed geminiviruses could be used as a delivery mechanism for genome-editing enzymes. Voytas and Baltes are named as inventors on the patent for the technology licensed from the university.

Calyxt in April licensed CRISPR technology from Voytas’s lab, 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.

The company is also 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.

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