search articles: 

   from the issue of March 31, 2005

Monsanto, UNL forge agreement to develop dicamba-tolerant crops

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Monsanto Co. have signed an exclusive licensing agreement to develop crops tolerant to the broadleaf herbicide dicamba.

Don Weeks
 Don Weeks

This agreement is based on discoveries by UNL plant scientists. Biochemist Don Weeks and colleagues identified a gene that can make dicamba-sensitive crops, like soybeans, tolerant to the widely used herbicide. The university has several patents pending on this discovery.

The University, after a competitive process, granted exclusive license to Monsanto to integrate this trait into high-yielding commercial crop lines. Under the agreement, UNL scientists will provide technical support to move this technology from the lab to field as soon as possible, said Paul Prem, UNL vice chancellor for research.

Dicamba, which is economical and does not persist in soil, is effective against most broadleaf weeds, including those that are hard to control.

Farmers have used it to control broadleaf weeds in grass-type crops such as corn and wheat. However, it is harmful to crops such as soybeans, canola and cotton, which also are broadleaf plants.

The new technology will allow the development of soybean and other broadleaf crops that are highly tolerant to treatment with dicamba.

In general, herbicide-tolerant crops allow growers to make fewer application trips across their fields, reducing fuel consumption. They also aid in soil-saving conservation tillage.

Under the agreement, Weeks' lab could potentially receive up to $2.5 million over five years for further dicamba-tolerance research.

Specific terms of the agreement were not released, said Kannan Grant, UNL associate vice chancellor for technology development.

Weeks began searching for a genetic source of dicamba tolerance more than a decade ago.

"We knew there were bacteria that could degrade dicamba," Weeks explained. "The question was whether you could get one to do that in a plant cell, which is a completely different environment."

His laboratory collaborated with UNL plant scientist Tom Clemente's research team on extensive studies that revealed they had an effective gene.

Commercialization of a dicamba-tolerant product is not expected until the first part of the decade, said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer and executive vice president.

Weeks said the agreement with Monsanto is a major step in turning his findings into practical products.

"It always feels good to see your work move toward the point where it ultimately will be useful," Weeks said.



Taking aim on innovation
Ruggie offers global view in forum finale
Viewpoint variety spurs ORCA winner
A Piece of University History
IRIS running strong after 15 years
Monsanto, UNL forge agreement to develop dicamba-tolerant crops