A technology that has been shown to modify genes in human cells has been successfully applied to maize and canola crops, according to biotech firm Dow AgroSciences.
The new technology could result in the faster, cheaper development of genetically modified crops, said the agricultural group today.
The announcement comes on the successful completion of certain "milestones" of a research agreement between Dow AgroSciences and Sangamo BioSciences, a firm that focuses on the development of DNA-binding proteins for gene regulation and modification.
The two companies entered the three-year agreement in 2005, allowing Dow to apply Sangamo's technology to plants and cell structure.
The technology, known as zinc finger DNA-binding protein (ZFP) technology, can be used to specifically regulate and modify genes.
The companies explain that ZFPs are the dominant class of naturally occurring transcription factors in organisms. Transcription factors, which are found in the nucleus of every cell, bind to DNA to regulate gene expression.
By engineering ZFPs that recognize a specific DNA sequence, Sangamo scientists claim to have created ZFP transcription factors that can control gene expression and consequently, cell function.
The firm says it has already demonstrated how this technology can be used to improve plant oils. It also this year published data in Proceedings of the National Academy that claims to demonstrate the introduction of a 'gene-sized fragment' of DNA into a specific location in the human genome.
Dow AgroSciences scientists say they have similarly used Sangamo's technology to successfully target native genes in crops with "extraordinary molecular precision".
This, they say, is a "development that has a potentially significant impact on the cost and timelines of generating crop products with new and improved traits".
The achievements announced today represent the first demonstration of the precise placement of a gene of interest into a specific native gene in maize, said Dan Kittle, vice president of Research and Development for Dow AgroSciences.
He added that the technology holds the potential to enable gene editing of native traits and up- and down-regulation of genes to influence metabolic profiles of plants.
During the initial three-year research agreement between the two firms, Dow AgroSciences has the option to obtain a commercial license to sell products incorporating or derived from plant cells generated using Sangamo's ZFP technology, including agricultural crops, industrial products and plant-derived biopharmaceuticals.