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Monsanto Advances RNAi-Based Products Through Pipeline

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By Doug Macron

Ag-bio giant Monsanto last week provided an update on its research-and-development activities, highlighting at an effort to use RNAi to improve crop traits.

But the company is applying RNAi to at least two other projects, including one designed to improve bee survival.

During its annual pipeline update, Monsanto said that it has advanced into phase III development a strain of corn that incorporates RNAi to create resistance to the corn rootworm, a pest that feeds on the roots of corn plants.

According to the company, phase III development involves trait integration, fixed testing, and the generation of data for regulatory purposes. The average duration of phase III is between 12 and 24 months. Should a product candidate prove successful during this stage of development, it is advanced into a final phase during which the company submits data to regulators and begins pre-marketing efforts.

The company provided few details on the corn rootworm project, although in 2007 Gene Silencing News spoke with a company researcher regarding efforts to use RNAi to develop a strain of corn resistant to the pest (GSN 11/20/2007).

A Monsanto spokesperson also disclosed that the company has in the final stage of development a strain of soybeans, dubbed Vistive Gold, that can yield a trans-fat-free and reduced-saturated-fat oil. In December, the company announced that the US Department of Agriculture had deregulated the biotech trait in the soybeans, opening the door to their commercialization.

Few specific details about either the rootworm-resistant corn or Vistive Gold soybeans were available, and the Monsanto spokesperson said in an e-mail that “it is still early days for us in terms of RNAi.”

With Vistive Gold in phase IV development, Monsanto expects to have an RNAi product on the market within three years. Meantime, the company is already field testing Remebee, a double-stranded RNA additive to bee feed that is designed to inhibit Israeli acute paralysis virus, a bee disease highly correlated with colony collapse disorder.

Acquired through Monsanto's September purchase of privately held Beeologics, Remebee is being tested in a large-scale trial in the US.


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