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Chromatin and Monsanto ally to apply gene-stacking technology

May 22 , 2007

Biotech giant Monsanto Company has entered into a collaborative agreement with Chicago-based start-up Chromatin Inc. to evaluate and develop Chromatin’s gene-stacking technology.

Chromatin produces mini-chromosomes, a tool that can introduce several new genes at once into a plant cell. Originally developed by Daphne Preuss, PhD, professor of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago, these mini-chromosomes can deliver a dozen or more genes in a reliable, lasting, controlled and heritable way.

Under the agreement, Monsanto obtains non-exclusive rights to use Chromatin’s mini-chromosome stacking technology in corn, cotton, soybeans, and canola. Chromatin retains the right to broadly license its enabling technology so that other companies and third parties can benefit from this technology as well. Monsanto and Chromatin scientists agreed to a three-year joint research program that may be extended, as necessary, to complete the technology development.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“Monsanto’s crop and trait development capabilities make them an ideal partner for advancing Chromatin’s gene-stacking technology,” said Preuss, Chromatin’s chief scientific officer and president. This non-exclusive partnership was structured to facilitate the development of Chromatin’s technology for commercial and humanitarian uses.

Chromatin’s technology could ultimately have a real impact on world hunger, Preuss said, by “increasing the hardiness, yield and nutrition of third-world crops. It could improve the production of ethanol or other biofuels. It could enable plants to make inexpensive medicines.”

In the standard approach, scientists insert one or two genes at a time into hundreds or thousands of plants, a fairly random process. Then they have to breed the offspring selectively to get a consistent strain that expresses both new genes. Using mini-chromosomes, Chromatin’s technology makes it possible to put in as many as a dozen new genes at once, all surrounded by the desired regulatory mechanisms.

“It can cut one to two years out of any project,” said Preuss, who is on leave of absence from the University. “You get a better product faster, which saves time, reduces costs, and frees up resources.”

Monsanto will evaluate Chromatin’s stacking technology for use in conjunction with its existing technologies to explore more efficient methods of stacking traits.

“This is a significant milestone for a technology that has come a long way since its development at the University,” said Alan Thomas, director of the Office of Technology & Intellectual Property at the University of Chicago. “We hope this is the first of many such announcements, and that this technique continues to move toward broad adoption and impact.”

About Chromatin:

Chromatin is a privately held company that pioneered the development of plant mini-chromosomes. Its patented gene-stacking technology can be used in any plant to accelerate product pipelines, reduce production costs, and enable novel plant-based products. Chromatin’s mini-chromosome technology can be used to deliver genes that benefit the agricultural, nutritional, energy, pharmaceutical, and chemical sectors.  For additional information, visit

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Last modified at 11:09 AM CST on Monday, July 23, 2007

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