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Monsanto Picks Protabit for Agbio Protein Design Software Project

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Monsanto said this week that it has signed a two-year collaboration with Pasadena-based computational biology startup Protabit to develop new software tools for high-throughput protein design and optimization.

Monstanto will use the software to help genetically engineer crops.

Under the agreement, for which no financial terms were released, Protabit will integrate computational approaches for protein optimization that will allow for the exchange of information across platforms and offer better ways to include new data, Monsanto said.

Protabit will also work on developing new computational approaches for protein optimization.

In return, Monsanto will obtain exclusive rights to tools developed by Protabit for use in the fields of plant improvement and agriculture.

Monsanto said the tools will help to shorten the product discovery process and more quickly identify gene candidates that will help to reach its "sustainability goal" of doubling yields in crops of corn, cotton, and soybeans by 2030, compared to a base year of 2000.

"We believe that utilizing state-of-the-art protein design software, coupled with our high-throughput gene synthesis and protein purification platforms, will further strengthen our R&D pipeline," Steve Padgette, vice president of biotechnology for Monsanto, said in a statement.

Protabit is a startup founded by Stephen Mayo of the California Institute of Technology and Homme Hellinga of Duke University. Mayo focuses on quantitative methods in protein design with the hopes of creating protein design automation while Hellinga's research is focused on protein engineering, molecular simulation, and protein and drug design.

"Recent advances in protein sequence design coupled to robotic expression of proteins will dramatically improve the efficacy of computational protein design methodology," Mayo said in a statement. "We look forward to collaborating with Monsanto on both the development of new methodology and its application to protein design projects that lead to new and/or improved products in the ag biotech arena."

According to the statement, Protabit hopes to develop "the next generation" of protein design software, which will include advances in multi-state design, protein library design, and the use of novel hardware such as graphics processing units for ultra high-performance computing.

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