Vi Shukla is a scientific leader at Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences LLC, focused on its Exzact Precision Technology tools for genetic engineering of plants and crops. The Exzact tools allow scientists to add or delete a DNA sequence from a specific “address” in the plant genome. They also let scientists “edit” the sequence of a plant genome, thus causing it to produce different proteins, or to “tune” a genetic sequence so the plant produces either more or less of a desired protein. Previous approaches to genetic engineering involved somewhat random alterations to a gene sequence, followed by screening to see if changes occurred in the desired places in the sequence.
IBJ: How has Dow Agro used the Exzact tools in its own products?
A: We started developing the Exzact platform back in 2007. We’ve spent a lot of time validating that the technology could do what we thought it could do. We’ve worked with it in model systems that are fundamental to research, like tobacco for example. And we’ve also worked with it in our core crops, such as corn and canola. It’s become thoroughly embedded in our entire crop pipeline: soybeans, corn, canola. We’re moving it into some of our other crop areas such as cotton, for example.
IBJ: In May, Dow Agro announced partnership with researchers at Oregon State University to use Exzact in trees. Does this represent a potential new line of business for Dow Agro?
A: This is not an area we ourselves are moving into, but we are definitely leveraging our breakthrough technology. By partnering with [Oregon State], we are going to be able to do demonstration projects that will show the potential of the technology to other players in the industry. It’s really hard to do breeding on trees. So the collaboration will focus on tree development and reproduction and potential ways to accelerate tree reproduction. We also have a collaboration with a company in Europe; using our technology, we are developing a high-yielding tomato variety.
IBJ: Why is it in Dow Agro’s interest to do these collaborations outside your core businesses?
A: For us it definitely an opportunity to demonstrate our technology as being the gold standard across the industry for genetic modification by partnering with the right folks who are working with those sectors and enabling them to use this technology. When we’re successful, there will be an upside to Dow, through royalties. We’ve had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to opportunities and folks approaching us.