INSIGHT: BASF finds smart route for Plant Science

21 March 2007 17:27  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS news)--BASF is beginning to unleash its considerable potential in biotechnology.

The company has developed a range of techniques, including metabolic profiling, or metabolomics, and high throughput screening in its Plant Science business that is obviously attractive.

The venture announced on Wednesday with gene science leader Monsanto reflects this.

Pumping a cool $1.5bn (€1.1bn) into yield and stress tolerance traits for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola – or oil seed rape – jointly with Monsanto signals a great deal.

BASF is building on its platform of innovation to look harder at raw material change – how alternative raw materials might be used to make chemicals and biotechnology applied to nutrition, health and more efficient agriculture.

Its metabalomics research particularly delves into which genes express which chemicals in plant cellular activity.

The chemicals giant has applied expertise in analytics, robotics and complex laboratory information systems to plant science to make a difference.

It has taken a different route to most players in the agricultural biotechnology business but clearly now needs a partner to deliver products that will help grow more food and plant-based feedstock more effectively.

Yield and stress is the focus of the deal with Monsanto – a 50:50 research venture through which both companies expect to accelerate product pipeline development.

Monsanto has been keen to tap into a new approach in its core business, principally developed by the BASF company Metanomics. It sees significant potential to accelerate product throughput giving farmers access to new traits.

BASF has described the plant biotechnology systems it has developed since it set up a plant science business in 1998 as a Google dedicated to genetics.

The systems can rapidly sort genes for further R&D work, with Metanomics delving into the workings of individual plant ‘factories’.

The search for enhanced yield and stress tolerant traits is one of the most important in agriculture. More meat is being consumed in Asia; the world is turning increasingly to the use of biofuels. Pressure on critical water resource puts great strain on many hectares of arable land.

Yield is the Holy Grail of agricultural research and the partners in this deal say they expect to produce a family of products over the next decade delivering yield increases of more than 20%.

This venture is not simply about research Monsanto and BASF stress.

Monsanto expects the net present value of its yield and stress product platform to double through the link-up.

BASF will benefit from more effectively monetising its plant science research and speeding the delivery of products to market from its early stage research.

New products from the venture will be sold through the Monsanto network with the proceeds split 60:40.

Monsanto is clearly delighted with the deal.

“We’ve just connected a fire hose to our product pipeline,” one senior executive said on Thursday.

BASF is on the way to delivering considerably more through its network of chemical and biotechnology expertise.

($1 = €0.75)

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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