Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) announced an exclusive licensing agreement with partner Inari, a company that is advancing plant breeding by tapping nature's genetic diversity. The technology developed by CSHL Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Zachary Lippman allows Inari to tailor plant architecture and other traits in crops, improving productivity and quality to fit local environmental conditions.
Today, commercial production of major crops, such as soybeans, corn, wheat and tomato, relies on a handful of standard seed varieties—with limited options for farmers. Inari is applying the Lippman technology to its product development process, which aims to address challenges to our current food system, increasing plant yields as well as water—and nitrogen-use efficiency.
"CSHL identified Inari as an exclusive partner because of its potential to disrupt the market," said CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman. "Dr. Lippman's team has already demonstrated the power of basic research in understanding crop yield and this collaboration with Inari applies his research to help farmers deal with changing environmental conditions, water shortages, and threats to arable land."
Lippman first came to CSHL as a Ph.D. student, studying how gene regulation can impact diversity. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he studied how tweaks in gene regulation cause wide variation in traits. In Israel, Lippman and colleagues identified two genes—both of which encode regulators of other genes—that help control the branching of flower-bearing shoots in tomato plants. Recruited back to CSHL as a faculty member, he has studied the architecture and flowering of tomatoes, developing new approaches, including the Promoter Fine Tuning technology, to tailor the genes that control these traits.
Two years in the making, the licensing of Promoter Fine Tuning technology is consistent with CSHL's strategy to pursue innovation in the focus areas of crop improvement, clinical diagnostics, cancer therapeutics and orphan diseases. Standard academic technology transfer strategy considers commercialization when basic research sparks an idea for a marketable technology. "CSHL's approach is more forward-looking, aligned with its historic high-risk/high-reward approach to accelerating innovative research," explained Andrew Whiteley, CSHL Vice President for Business Development and Technology Transfer. "We want to initiate relationships with industry partners while the technology is being shaped and developed at CSHL."