Monsanto set on biotech wheat
Biotech options could be ready in the next decade
By MATTHEW WEAVER
OTHELLO, Wash. -- Genetically modified wheat is still in the future, a top Monsanto official says.
Scientists want to improve yield and stress capabilities in wheat, and are looking for the genes that will make it more drought tolerant or increase nitrogen use, Sam Eathington, Monsanto's global plant breeding vice president, said.
"It's all early phase," Eathington told the Capital Press. "It's going to be a little while before we can get those products out into the industry. There's still a lot of research and development that's going to have to go on."
Monsanto typically talks about genetically modified wheat occurring in the next decade, he said.
"We'll continue to look at opportunities for specific insects or plant health," he said. "We evaluate every year what would be good targets and opportunities."
Eathington said Monsanto is also working to bring nonbiotech technology to the wheat-breeding process, setting up a double haploid process and using molecular markers to look at DNA to find disease resistance and increase efficiency. The work is similar to that already done on corn, soybeans and cotton.
Asked about other genetically modified crops on the heels of the releases of biotech alfalfa and sugar beets, Eathington said new releases would likely be extensions of the lines of corn and cotton.
"Science will come along with opportunities," he said. "We need to figure out what best works and what doesn't."
Based in St. Louis, Mo., Eathington oversees breeding for seven row crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugarcane and sorghum.
Monsanto has 136 locations worldwide for breeding and research.
Eathington spoke with the Capital Press during the grand opening of Monsanto's new corn breeding facility near Othello, Wash.
He said the site is the company's only corn-breeding facility in the U.S. Others are in Central and South America.
Humberto Gutierrez, Monsanto's line development breeding lead for the northern United States, said the new building is a double haploid production facility.
The process allows the company to produce inbred lines of corn rapidly. Traditional processes require eight generations, but Monsanto can do it in a two-step process, Gutierrez said.
The Othello region drew Monsanto's attention because of its optimum growing conditions and crop diversity, Gutierrez and site manager Brett Sowers said.
At a glance
The new Monsanto corn-breeding facility is 14,000 square feet and has 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space. They are on 48 acres and handle materials grown all over the U.S.
The plant has five full-time employees and several seasonal workers.
Monsanto relocated the program to Othello in 2007 from Hawaii.