Searching cornfields for keys to improved production

By Kasey Worst

The Food Fix is giving snapshots of how five companies recently pitched their ideas for improving food systems  at the Mid Michigan Innovation Center’s 2016 Agriculture Tech Forum in Bay City, Mich.

Today: Gene patenting

Native Traits Corp., based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is looking for funding to identify genetic markers in corn that can improve corn production.

The company uses a trademarked technique called NT RECOVERY to identify multiple genes that are not in modern commercial corn varieties.

“That’s the key,” said John McIntyre, the company’s co-founder. “You hear about people using primitive lines of this and that to get genes, but it’s usually single gene traits. And those are typically for disease or insect resistance.”

It is difficult to identify and use multi-gene traits that control factors such as yield and environmental stress protection, he said.

Farmers will benefit from using this type of seed, because in a bad year the stress-resistance will keep the plants healthier, and in a good year the higher yield will boost production even further, he said.

One of the traits found by the company, named EaSY, increases yields by up to 41 percent, he said. The enhanced crops also flower earlier, avoiding environmental stresses like drought.

The company hopes to make the corn in everyday foods more diverse by putting the traits of these ancestral genes into commercial corn lines, he said.

McIntyre said they plan to patent any genes they discover, and that the end goal of the company is to have their company be bought by a major seed company like Monsanto.

The company is looking to raise $1.5 million to perform field trials of corn strains, identify more traits and securing licenses to protect more of their intellectual property. McIntyre said that if the genes they license out to agricultural producers become even one percent of the market, that could make the company $5 million a year.

Tomorrow: Local plant oil processing

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