New Collaboration to validate CRISPR Genome-editing tools in plants

Merck KGaA signs collaboration and license agreement with Israeli company BetterSeeds to accelerate use of CRISPR in agricultural applications, making it more widely available.

 BetterSeeds CEO, Ido Margalit  (photo credit: Courtesy)
BetterSeeds CEO, Ido Margalit
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Merck KGaA, a leading multinational Pharmaceutical company, has signed through its Life Science division, MilliporeSigma, a unique collaboration and license agreement with an Israeli AgTech company to demonstrate the utility of its proprietary CRISPR genome-editing tools in agricultural uses. The agreement licenses its foundational CRISPR intellectual property to Israeli BetterSeeds Ltd., a disruptive company that uses genome editing technology including CRISPR to develop new breeds of plants.

CRISPR-based integration is a fundamental tool for many genome-editing applications but has historically been exceptionally difficult to do in plants,” explained Angela Myers, Head of Gene Editing and Novel Modalitie at MilliporeSigma.

MilliporeSigma, the US-Canadian offshoot of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has created one of the most comprehensive portfolios of CRISPR and other advanced genomics products and technologies in the world. 

“With this collaboration [with BetterSeeds] we aim to test the boundaries of the currently available technology in this critical sector helping to bring food security to millions whilst lowering the environmental impact of the farming process,” added Myers. 

CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. This name refers to the unique organization of short, partially palindromic repeated DNA sequences found in the genomes of bacteria and other microorganisms, and is a new technology that facilitates making specific changes in the DNA of humans, other animals, and plants. 

BetterSeeds plans to use MilliporeSigma’s foundational CRISPR patent estate to edit cash crops such as cowpea and cannabis in order to develop and incorporate, namely by use of gene-editing tools, game changing traits, which are currently not available in many crops due to the limitations of conventional breeding. 

“We are excited that MilliporeSigma has chosen BetterSeeds to validate their CRISPR tools in plants. Being the first AgTech company to access MillioporeSigma’s technology for plant applications will strengthen BetterSeeds’ capabilities to efficiently deliver high quality crops with better traits,” said Ido Margalit, CEO of BetterSeeds.

BetterSeeds aims to address 21st-century farming challenges including enabling farmers and policy decision makers to meet output goals, all the while using significantly less arable land. BetterSeeds stated goal is to adapt today’s crops for the challenges of tomorrow.

Meanwhile, MilliporeSigma will use its expertise to offer products and services to support basic scientific research and the development of new therapeutics and diagnostics, creating unique technologies and expanding the scope of these applications in order to accelerate scientific research. The new agreement will allow MilliporeSigma’s leadership in the genome-editing field to continue, using this collaboration with BetterSeeds to demonstrate the potential for its CRISPR genome-editing tools in plants.

With MilliporeSigma’s license of its foundational CRISPR intellectual property to BetterSeeds, the research, development, and commercialization of gene edited plants utilizing CRISPR technology - including CRISPR-based integration - will be greatly advanced. 

BetterSeeds applies and improves the CRISPR-cas9 gene editing technology to develop new, improved varieties of selected crops. The improvement is achieved by embedding essential game changing traits, which are currently not available due to the limitations of conventional breeding and enhancement methods.

BetterSeeds is led by seasoned professionals from the seed industry who possess extensive practical experience in implementing gene editing technology. The team includes Ido Margalit co-founder and CEO, Dr. Tal Sherman co-founder and VP R&D, Dr. Shira Corem Head of Gene Editing and Molecular Biology, Aaron Berdah president and chairman, and deputy-chair of SmartAgro Investment Fund, and Ilanit Madari CFO. Additional team members include Prof. Haim Rabinowitch, plant breeding expert, and Dr. Amit Gal-On, an expert in gene editing, whom are members of the company’s advisory board.

MilliporeSigma, meanwhile, holds some 50 CRISPR-related patents worldwide in methods and composition, including the foundational technology of CRISPR-Cas9 mediated integration in eukaryotic cells.