by Bradley J. Fikes
January 31, 2013
MONSANTO PARTNERS WITH SYNTHETIC
MONSANTO PARTNERS WITH BIOTECH IN LA
Monsanto Corp. has acquired part of
a La Jolla agricultural biotech in a deal that gives the St. Louis
food giant a presence in San Diego for the first time.
Monsanto purchased crop-boosting microbial technology from Agradis,
a spinoff of
Synthetic Genomics, the companies
said Wednesday. Monsanto also made an equity investment in Synthetic
Genomics and signed a research agreement with the company. Terms
were not disclosed.
The acquisition gives Monsanto access to some of the newest and most
sophisticated technologies for improving crop yields and preventing
loss from disease. And while genetic technology is fundamental, it’s
mostly being used to find naturally occurring beneficial microbes.
Synthetic Genomics was founded in 2005 by gene pioneer J. Craig
Venter to solve energy and environmental challenges.
As part of the acquisition, seven
Agradis employees researching helpful microbes were hired by
Monsanto, said Joe Mahler, Synthetic Genomics’ chief
“These are natural microbes to
enhance crop productivity and crop protection,” Mahler said.
“It’s all part of a sustainable program to increase production
and increase yield.”
Synthetic Genomics formed
Agradis in 2011 with
Plenus S.A. de C.V., a Mexican
Its goal is to continue modern
agricultural advances dubbed the Green Revolution because they
drastically improved yields and helped countries turn from famine to
Monsanto is taking over Agradis’ office in La Jolla. It represents
Monsanto’s first presence in San Diego, said spokeswoman Sara
Helpful microbes perform such tasks as “fixing” the nutrient
nitrogen from the air into the soil.
Under the research agreement, Monsanto
and Synthetic Genomics will apply genetic technology to discovering
microbes that could be turned into crop-boosting products.
“From our standpoint, it’s just
proving out the commercialization opportunities and the benefits
that biology will have in improving sustainability,” Mahler
“That’s where everything’s going.
The types of things we’re working on are improved yields, using
less land and less water.”
Synthetic Genomics and Plenus are
forming a new company with the parts of Agradis not purchased by
Monsanto, Mahler said.
The company, AgraCast, controls breeding and genetic improvement
technologies for castor and sweet sorghum, along with an antifungal
product for fruits and vegetables.
Employees with the new company will move
out of the Agradis office to a new one nearby, Mahler said.