Company's work could help farmers protect against billions in pest losses annually
St. Louis, MO (PRWEB) April 29, 2009 -- In the past year, St. Louis biotech firm Divergence, Inc., has received more than $1.2 million in research grants, including a $500,000 grant just awarded from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further the company's work on biotech traits for lesion nematode control in crops such as corn. The Phase II grant, "Control of Lesion Nematodes by RNA Interference," is part of NSF's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
Nematodes are the largest unsolved pest problem in agriculture, limiting the yield of crops worldwide and causing billions of dollars in crop damage annually. Lesion nematodes are prevalent in the Corn Belt and appear to be increasing with changing agronomic practices. Divergence, a world leader in developing products for control of parasites in agriculture and medicine, has discovered nematicidal chemistry working through a novel mode of action and is also working on biotechnology-derived crops with built-in pest resistance.
The company's Phase I research demonstrated that RNA interference (RNAi) can substantially reduce lesion nematode reproduction resulting in a larger, healthier root system for a plant. The Phase II grant will allow Divergence to expand greenhouse testing in crops including corn. RNAi is a fundamental mechanism of gene regulation triggered by double-stranded RNA. Divergence was an early industrial adopter of RNAi, working with the research platform since the company's inception in 1999. Dr. Craig Mello, a member of Divergence's Scientific Advisory Board since 2000, was the co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of RNAi.
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