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Oct. 10 Ag Biotech Summit Highlights NC’s Power, Potential

By Jennifer Woodford, NCBiotech Writer

Miscanthus for biofuels. Courtesy of Tom Ranney, NCSU  

North Carolina‘s global agricultural biotechnology leadership will be in the spotlight at an Ag Biotech Summit Oct. 10 in Raleigh.

The Summit, sponsored by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the North Carolina Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council and the Kenan Institute for Engineering Technology & Science, will be held at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center.

Five of the world’s six largest ag biotech companies have major facilities in North Carolina. They and dozens of smaller research-based companies are wielding game-changing technologies to commercialize crops with improved pest resistance, increased yields and enhanced nutritional and medicinal value.

The Summit will feature speeches and panel sessions including Ag Biotech Is More Than Genetic Engineering and Disruptive Technologies/Innovative Solutions Are Essential, delving into the power and potential of North Carolina’s ag biotech sector to continue transforming the global marketplace.

Expert panelists to explore ag biotech options

A critical element of ag biotech’s value is its broad range of scientific approaches, from traditional plant breeding to marker-assisted breeding. Panelists for the Ag Biotech Is More Than Genetic Engineering session include representatives from Medicago, Monsanto, the United States Department of Agriculture and Wellesley College. These panelists will address the applications and advantages of such a diverse toolbox. 

Medicago, for example, produces plant-based influenza vaccines. “We start with a non-genetically modified tobacco plant, which is a very robust plant, and control its growth in a greenhouse,” explains panelist Mike WannerMedicago’s executive vice president of U.S. operations.

“We infiltrate the plants at about five weeks of age with our genes of interest. Then for a period of seven days in a controlled environment, the proteins express and develop within the plant. Technologies like these are advancing so that they are efficient, effective, safe, controlled and ready for mainstream use.”

Large, small companies participating

As part of the Disruptive Technologies/Innovative Solutions Are Essential session, panelists from Agile Sciences, BASF Plant Science, DuPont Pioneer and NanoVector will detail next-generation agricultural biotechnologies that have the potential to revolutionize the global marketplace, from crops to cancer treatment.

Agile Sciences is commercializing products derived from a compound found in a sea sponge that breaks down biofilms for agriculture, medicine and industrial applications while BASF Plant Sciences is researching new generations of higher-yielding and healthier crops.

Pioneer, a global leader in advanced plant genetics, is developing and providing high-quality seed for crops like rice, wheat, sorghum, alfalfa, sunflower, soybean and canola as well as grain and forage additives for livestock. NanoVector is developing a nanoparticle derived from a plant virus to use as a targeted-delivery module for cancer drugs. 

Ag biotech offers alternatives

The potential impact for ag biotech goes even further. “The ag biotech industry is being looked at as a resource for alternate energy like biodiesel and ethanol and for materials such as polymers and other bio-based chemicals that were once based on petrochemicals,” says Billy Houghteling, executive director of the NCSU Office of Technology Transfer, who will moderate the Disruptive Technologies/Innovative Solutions are Essential session. “This extension of the ag biotech industry into fuels and materials will prove to be valuable.”

Possibly the greatest value of ag biotech, Houghteling adds, is the job creation and “innovation ecosystem” that the industry is advancing in North Carolina.

It pays to register early. The $30 advance registration fee for the Summit will increase to $45 on Friday, Sept. 28.

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