Project advances tassel tech
Corn tassels would be vulnerable to Roundup while rest of plant resistant
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
The Monsanto Co. aims to simplify hybrid corn production with a genetically engineered trait that allows farmers to chemically detassel the crop.
Corn tassels are typically removed mechanically and by hand to prevent the plant from pollinating itself, thereby allowing cross-pollination with another variety. Typically, several rows of detasseled female plants are pollinated by a single row of male plants.
Traditional methods of detasseling can damage plants and reduce yields by damaging leaves, Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis said in an e-mail.
With the "Roundup Hybridization System" corn, the corn plant itself is highly tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto as Roundup. However, its male flowers -- the tassels -- are not, he said.
An "appropriately timed" application of the chemical will kill the tassels while leaving the corn intact, eliminating the need for other detasseling methods, Monsanto spokesman Ben Kampelman said in an e-mail.
The hybrid seeds generated by these plants are both "fully fertile and glyphosate tolerant," said Wallis.
The biotech company has recently petitioned USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate the crop, which would allow it to be grown commercially without restriction.
Monsanto expects to find a market for the crop among U.S. farmers who collectively grow up to 500,000 acres of corn for seed production a year, said Kampelman.
At this stage, the crop probably is about three to six years away from being grown commercially, he said.
Center for Food Safety, an environmental group that has opposed certain genetically engineered crops, had no comment on the recent petition.
Rival biotech developer Pioneer is further along in the regulatory process for a similar corn trait.
With Pioneer's genetically engineered "Seed Production Technology" corn, the female plants used for hybrid production do not shed pollen at all.
The company's petition for deregulation has been pending since 2008, but APHIS has not yet released a preliminary environmental assessment of the crop.