(Nasdaq: CERE) today announced that field trials conducted by scientists in China have demonstrated that its portfolio of drought tolerance genes provided significant improvements in yield protection in rice, which the company routinely uses to confirm trait performance.
One of Ceres’ genes produced an average of 25 percent more grain than experimental control plants and 20% more grain than rice plants containing a recently deregulated biotech drought trait. Biomass production was improved by 20 percent over the same controls. In addition to greater yield stability under drought conditions, some Ceres genes have also demonstrated yield benefits under normal watering conditions.
Based on these results in rice, the company believes that drought genes already in its pipeline could maintain 100 percent grain and biomass yields under water deficits up to 30 percent, with the opportunity to further enhance tolerance by combining, or stacking, drought genes together. According to published reports, the first commercial biotech drought trait as well as drought traits developed by plant breeding alone have provided only modest (<10%) yield protection.
Ceres will proceed with additional testing and continue to move its traits into its energy crops as well as row crops. About 80 percent of agricultural land in the U.S. experienced drought last season, making the 2012 drought more extensive than any drought since the 1950s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. corn production, for instance, was down four billion bushels to 10.7 billion bushels from early-season projections of 14.8 billion – a loss of $25 billion based on season-average corn prices for the 2011/12 marketing year.
“Water availability is a fundamental limitation on crop yields. Our drought traits could provide greater yield stability, and in many cases, make cropping less intense in areas where water supplies are limited or being depleted,” said Richard Hamilton, President and CEO. “In row crops, this means greater food security, and greater resilience to the effects of climate change. For energy crops, this means making greater use of marginal, low-rent land. This work is made all the more important as U.S. growers faced the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years.”