Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) and Sapphire Energy, Inc. today announced an agreement to enter a multi-year collaboration that will leverage Sapphire's algae-based research platform to discover genes that could be applied to agriculture, particularly in the field of yield and stress.
Sapphire Energy is known for its leading work in bio-energy, which involves applying synthetic biology to produce drop-in replacement fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from algae. This collaboration will enable Monsanto to tap Sapphire's algal expertise and research tools, which can be used to screen for promising traits in algae that might have applicability in modern agriculture. For Sapphire, this collaboration will push the known boundaries of algal science to search not only for traits that will impact traditional agricultural crops, but will also accelerate Sapphire's road to commercializing algae as a renewable energy crop.
The collaboration will focus on identifying genes that positively affect growth in algae, a target for Sapphire, which might increase crop yields as well.
"Sapphire's expertise in algal research offers a novel platform that will allow us to screen and identify promising genes faster," said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer. "We face a common goal in looking for ways to improve upon an organism's ability to achieve greater productivity under optimal and sub-optimal environmental conditions. Together with Sapphire, we can identify genes affecting such traits in algae that might also be applied to corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops."
Algae are an excellent discovery tool because they have a similar photosynthetic process to other plants but are simple and efficient to work with, Fraley said. Algae also can be grown, screened, tested and selected with high throughput tools, which enables a relatively fast process for researchers.
"Monsanto has always been at the forefront of agricultural technology developments and innovation," says Jason Pyle, CEO, Sapphire Energy. "Through this collaborative partnership, we'll focus our leading-edge research agenda on some of the biggest questions facing both agriculture and energy. By leveraging our algae platform and tools to improve crop yield and enhance crop performance, Sapphire will be able to accelerate our ability to produce a renewable crude oil replacement and reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil."
Under the agreement, Monsanto and Sapphire will collaborate on algae-based research projects, and Monsanto will make an equity investment in Sapphire. Other terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
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