Field trials on non-GM, tolerant flax coming soon

A California company continues to make strides in its quest to develop a non-genetically modified, herbicide tolerant flax crop.

Cibus has created glyphosate resistant flax that is doing what it is supposed to do in a laboratory setting, said Greg Gocal, chief scientific officer for Cibus.

“We’re really encouraged by how the crop performs in the greenhouse, but the greenhouse is not completely predictive of how the material will perform in the field,” he said.

Gocal doesn’t believe enough seed is available to proceed with field trials this year, but the company hopes to obtain regulatory approval to conduct field trials starting next year.

“We’re in the process of expanding that population of plants so that we have enough seed that we could do field trials,” he said.

The project has received funding from the Canadian government and the Flax Council of Canada.

The council dropped its funding for the project a couple of years ago, but Gocal said Cibus has been in discussions with the council about helping fund the upcoming field trials.

He believes herbicide tolerant flax would win back acres from competing crops such as canola.

“It really will make a huge difference in how competitive the flax crop is,” said Gocal.

The project is on schedule for commercial introduction in the United States in 2019 and one year later in Canada pending regulatory approval.

Cibus’s herbicide tolerant flax would have to receive regulatory approval through Canada’s plants with novel traits system before it could be marketed to Canadian farmers.

The crop will likely avoid the regulatory approval process in the U.S. because it was created using a process that regulators have deemed to be non-transgenic.

Cibus used a combination of its patented Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) technology with directed nucleases such as CRISPRs and TALENs to develop the trait

Gocal described CRISPRs and TALENs as molecular scissors that allow scientists to cut the genome in a specific spot and then use the RTDS technology to install a snippet of DNA that acts as a template that changes the letters of the DNA code to create the desired trait.

Cibus intends to use the technology to create other desirable traits such as disease resistance and beneficial changes to the oil and starch profile of crops.

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