(Photo: view of the indoor of the gene-editing lab in Londrina, Brazil)

Buenos Aires, March 20th. Last June 2018 we wrote about the building up of a gene-editing lab by breeding company Don Mario in Londrina, Brazil. In that article, we quoted Investigation Manager Marcos Quiroga saying that in the transgenic era “we were a small company in front of an expensive technology”, but that now, in the gene-editing era “we are a large company in front of a cheaper technology”.

In this occasion, in the context of the farming outdoor fair Expoagro, we talked with Marcos “Tito” Franco, one of the young professionals working at the I+D area of Don Mario. With the lab concluded and full working, www.eFarmNewsAr.com wanted to know what’s going on in the gene-editing area.

Asociados Don Mario or Grupo Don Mario (GDM Seeds) is the largest soybean breeding company in Argentina, but also a large player in the Brazil market. It is estimated that 40% of the soybean area in Latin America is planted with Don Mario varieties, and 20% at a global scale.

The I+D area is heading by Marcos Quiroga, while Latam South Investigation manager is Ezequiel Pozzo. The area is divided in two, with Gaspar Malone heading the Biotechnology area and Andrè Belo in the Gene-Editing area.

“Despite the debate about if a variety developed by gene-editing technology must consider a GMO or not, we see an opportunity to work with this New Breeding Technology. We chose to work whit CRISPR CAS 9 because we consider it an efficient and accurate technology to manipulate the germplasm”, Franco explained to www.eFarmNewsAr.com.

“We proposed ourselves a working framework that starts with the Gene Discovery stage, continues with using of CRISPR CAS 9, then passes to tissue culture, until obtaining the first gene-edited plant. But the most interesting was the debate about the priorities in the pipeline. Resistance to macrophomina fungus, to soybean rust, to drought and stink bugs were considered the priorities. Of course, the ultimate goal is to improve yields by gene-editing, but this is a complex challenge, as everybody knows”, Franco continued.

But stink bug (Nezara viridula) resistance is the most advanced program in the gene-editing pipeline. They are working to know why a particular plant is less harmed when is exposed to a stress caused by stink bug attack. “We have some hypothesis. It’s probably that a tolerant plant produces a volatile component that repels the insect, or on the other hand, a sensible plant produces a volatile component that attracts the insect. We are looking for the genes that determine the sensibility or the resistance to this biotic stress”, Franco explained. “But we do not discard other factors contributing to the resistance, like phenotypic characters like hairs in the pod that difficult the insect attack”.

Franco described that the molecular-markers program is fully assisting the breeding program to accelerate and reduces the cost to obtain new varieties.

“Only in Argentina, we are doing 4 to 5 thousand crossed-pollination every year, and 12 thousand at a global scale. Considerer we have 550/600 thousand new varieties in the base of selection pyramid. Thus we are using genome-wide selection (GWS) tools and we contract to bio-informatics to improve the cross-predicting process”, Franco detailed.
Don Mario is the third largest global soybean breeding company. They have ten breeding station between Argentina, the US, and Brazil, and run a testing network across 15 countries.