iCODE was developed to rapidly create, evaluate and select optimal combinations of genes and their control components for next-generation biotechnology traits in crops such as corn and soybean. The system is significantly more powerful than current practices. iCODE, which is an acronym for Intelligent Combinatorial Optimization and Directed Evolution, utilizes a plant cell’s own gene-shuffling system to create thousands of test plants with various novel combinations of pre-selected genes and promoters, which are the on-off switches for genes. Due to the efficiency of the system, Ceres says that iCODE can enable new kinds of discoveries and allow even smaller research programs to better compete against much larger competitors.
Ceres President and CEO Richard Hamilton noted that iCODE has the potential to revolutionize how traits are developed for many crops and can create new opportunities for intellectual property around proprietary combinations of genes and promoters. “Seed and trait companies rely on intellectual property protection, and iCODE could play a key role for companies attempting to access this new IP landscape. The first to unlock the potential will have a significant advantage in this area,” he suggested.
In practice, iCODE allows researchers to empirically test thousands of gene and promoter combinations in a single acre. Unlike first-generation traits, which usually consist of a single gene per trait, today’s biotech traits under development often pair multiple genes with multiple promoters to produce favorable characteristics. However, creating the thousands of combinations of genes and promoters that are required to identify the optimal candidates is time-consuming and costly, and has often eluded even the most robust trait development pipelines. iCODE helps solve this issue by providing an efficient, high-throughput approach.
The iCODE system is the latest in a line of innovations from Ceres. The company pioneered gene discovery and genome annotation through the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing systems in plants and was the first to utilize a two-species development system to identify plant genes that offer agronomic improvements— a system that was later followed by other plant science companies. Ceres is deploying the multi-gene trait development system internally and believes there are opportunities to out-license the system to other crop biotechnology companies. The company is currently in discussions with institutions and companies to establish best practices for evaluating the technology for larger scale deployment.
Today’s announcement follows a recent patent awarded to Ceres for a genetic sequence derived from soybean, covering uses of the gene in areas such as research, product development and plant transformation. The company believes that its gene is useful in regulating key biosynthetic processes that are the target of a class of commercial herbicides. Ceres plans to offer other seed companies a commercial license to the innovation, including an opportunity for exclusivity in certain crops.
Ceres, Inc. is an agricultural biotechnology company that develops and markets seeds and traits to produce crops for animal feed, sugar and other markets. The company’s advanced plant breeding and biotechnology technology platforms, which can increase crop productivity, improve quality, reduce crop inputs and improve cultivation on marginal land, have broad application across multiple crops, including food, feed, fiber and fuel crops. Ceres markets its seed products under its Blade brand. The company also licenses its biotech traits and technology, including its Persephone genome visualization software, to other life science companies and organizations. iCODE is a trademark of Ceres.
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