Metabolix launched Yield10 Bioscience late last year as a way to resource our crop science activity separately from our specialty biopolymers business. Yield10 is focused on global food security, as food production must be increased by an estimated 70% in the next 35 years to feed the growing global population which is expected to increase from 7 to 9.6 billion by 2050. Recent studies show that traditional crop breeding is unlikely to solve this problem. Rather, our Yield10 team believes technologies which enable simultaneous changes in complex gene systems to achieve step changes in seed yield are required. New data from our lead yield technologies provide strong support for this view.
Metabolix has developed two yield trait gene system discovery platforms. The first is based on over 30 years of experience optimizing the flow of carbon intermediates in living systems. Using our “Crop Smart Carbon Grid” platform, together with our partners in academia we have developed breakthrough science and demonstrated step changes in seed yield in the industrial oilseed Camelina. We believe our lead gene, C3003 (patent pending) is a scientific breakthrough in C3 photosynthesis and like all breakthroughs we will need to learn how best to maximize its use. Dr. Danny Schnell, recently named to the Yield10 Scientific Advisory Board, is a key collaborator on this work.
The second discovery platform is our “T3” platform, a proprietary computational process for genomic data analysis, where we have focussed on novel global transcription factor (GTF) genes, or master switches, which up-regulate multiple gene cascades and complex metabolic pathways. This work is described extensively in a patent application published in 2015 designated WO 2014100289 A1 and titled “Transcriptional regulation for improved plant productivity.” The patent application describes methods for introducing GTF master switches that modulate the activity of complex genetic networks to improve photosynthetic capacity, biomass, yield and stress tolerance in crops.
The patent application describes the role for GTFs as important gene targets in plants to control multiple fundamental biological processes including light harvesting pigments used in photosynthesis, overall photosynthetic capacity in plants and regulation (up or down) of key metabolic pathways that lead to increased levels of starch, glucose or sucrose in plant tissues, increased levels of fatty acids, increased biomass and/or grain yield, and enhanced stress tolerance. If you consider a plant as being analogous to an oil refinery, simply pouring in more crude would not necessarily result in increased gas production without also adjusting various other systems and valves in the refinery to handle the added feedstock. What we have done with the GTF master switches in plants is just that – we have increased the expression of a large number of other genes which in effect remove the potential downstream bottlenecks to increased carbon flow enabling increases in final crop yield. The genes identified in the patent application, which include their close relatives from crops like corn, soybean and sugarcane, can be used to engineer yield increases in crops with the C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways.
Using the lead GTF genes identified with this platform, the Yield10 team has demonstrated increases on average of over 40% in photosynthesis and biomass levels in early work with switchgrass. This is a remarkable result given switchgrass is an already high yielding crop. The team is now working towards introducing these GTF genes into major food crop species, including corn, rice, sugarcane and soybean.
Yield10 is a significant pivot for Metabolix in crop science that leverages 30 years of experience optimizing carbon flow in living systems and provides a new pathway for collaborating with industry leaders in the Ag sector. Supported by our game-changing technology and intellectual property, we’ve set the stage for meaningful contributions to the global food security movement.