Photo illustration courtesy of Pixabay.

Photo illustration courtesy of Pixabay.

Cibus, a San Diego-based biotech specializing in gene-editing traits into crop seeds, is sprouted and ready to grow.

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Rory Riggs Co-founder, CEO Cibus

“We’re no longer in the research stage. We have actual products and customers,” said Cibus CEO Rory Riggs. “Every one of the products in the pipeline already has a customer interest either because it’s in canola and they already are our customer or that the industry has really wanted this trait for a long time.”

 
Cibus has been perfecting its Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) gene-editing platform – which Riggs described as “one of the most important technologies” – for a long time. The company was founded in 2001 in response to European regulatory restrictions on GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops.

 
“In 2000 I think it was, the plant genome was published; 90 days later the human genome was published; 90 days later, Europe banned GMOs; and 90 days later we started Cibus,” Riggs said.

 
Not a GMO

 
Cibus seed traits are created through gene editing where the plant’s own DNA is changed to bring out a trait, rather than foreign DNA placed into the plant like those created by GMO firms such as Bayer Crop Science (formerly Monsanto).

 
Both technologies accomplish the same thing: enhancing productivity traits in plants that reduce pesticide and herbicide use; resist diseases; and even improve plant efficiency and productivity, allowing farmers to use less fertilizer while producing the same yields. However, Cibus’ technology has one important advantage.

 
“We started out with the idea that if we could make traits that were indistinguishable from conventional breeding we would not be regulated in the same camp [as GMOs], we would be regulated as regular breeding,” Riggs said.

 
So far, regulators have agreed. Countries around the world have either approved Cibus’ technology or have policy papers to approve it, including the anti-GMO Europe Union (EU) who now refers to the technology as “precision breeding,” Riggs said.  


Last year, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment concluded that genome editing techniques associated with specific Novel Breeding Technologies (NBTs) that edit the DNA of plants and do not introduce foreign genetic materials such as transgenes or recombinant DNA pose no more hazards than traditional plant breeding.


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Greg Gocal Co-founder, Chief Science Officer Cibus

“This study is a major milestone that caps decades of work by a new generation of plant breeders whose vision of post-GMO agriculture led to the development of these NBTs,” said Greg Gocal, Ph.D., chief scientific officer and co-founder of Cibus. “NBTs represent a new opportunity to develop input traits that address the growing global challenges of increased yields and climate change, as well as the urgent need for greater sustainability and reduction in agriculture’s carbon footprint.”

 
Unlike the U.S. where GMO traits are common in crop plants, European farmers plant seeds with no traits because of the EU ban on GMOs. Riggs predicts Cibus will likely to be the first company to offer them to EU farmers. 

 
U.S. regulators have also recognized Cibus’ technology as different from GMOs. The USDA APHIS process determines whether a product is a GMO and keeps a list of those that are not.  


“If you look at that list, we have like 13 or 14 products approved and the next closest [company] has two or three. We’re pretty far ahead,” Riggs said.

 
Advanced Traits

 
In late June, Cibus’ gene editing platform took another step ahead when the U.S. Patent Office granted the company a patent for its pod shatter reduction (PSR) trait.

 
Pod shatter is the pre-harvest release of canola oil seeds when the pod seam and connective tissue of the sheath that contains the seeds breaks apart and releases the seeds due to a weakened pod seam or the pod fracturing due to bad weather. Cibus’ technology firms the sheath on the canola plant, increasing yields and making planting and harvesting more predictable for farmers. Cibus customers will plant the first PSR seeds this fall.

 
“Pod shatter reduction is an excellent example of the power of what we can accomplish with our patented RTDS precision breeding platform,” Gocal said. “It is a highly effective trait that has been developed using RTDS and has been validated in field trials over several years. We are preparing for the commercialization of PSR in the United States and Canada. We are expecting that our pod shatter reduction trait will be one of the first gene-edited traits launched in Europe subject to legislative changes in the UK and EU.”

 
In addition to PSR, Cibus’ pipeline includes three traits that are herbicide resistant, one that resists a common mold and is “pretty far along” and one that improves nitrogen-use efficiency. “Everybody cares about that right now with what’s happening in the Ukraine,” Riggs added.

 
And Cibus’ platform is not limited to canola.

 
“Once you get a trait that is foundational, dealing with weeds or insects or disease, once you fix it in one plant, you have the ability to fix it in all of them,” Riggs said. “We have really good field data on two different herbicide packages for rice. Rice has had very limited herbicide packages because they were never able to do any GMOs in rice. This is a really big deal.”


Cibus
Founded: 2001
CEO: Rory Riggs
Headquarters: San Diego
Employees: 200
Business: Gene-editing platform for crop seeds
Website: 
www.cibus.com
Notable: Cibus’ pipeline has six different traits that will be implemented in five different crop types.