The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Monsanto Co. have signed an
exclusive licensing agreement to develop crops tolerant to the broadleaf
herbicide dicamba.

This agreement is based on discoveries by UNL plant scientists.
Biochemist Don Weeks and colleagues identified a gene that can make
dicamba-sensitive crops such as soybeans tolerant to the widely used
herbicide. The university has several patents pending on this discovery.

The university, after a competitive process, granted exclusive license
to Monsanto to integrate this trait into high-yielding commercial crop
lines. Under the agreement, university scientists will provide technical
support to move this technology from the lab to field as soon as
possible, said Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research.

“This is an example of the benefits of UNL’s investment in high-quality
research," Paul said. “This agreement with Monsanto, a leader in
agricultural biotechnology, should help ensure that this technology
becomes widely available to the farmers who can use it to improve food

Dicamba, which is economical and doesn’t persist in soil, is effective
against most broadleaf weeds, including weeds that are hard to control.
Farmers have used it to control broadleaf weeds in grassy-type crops
such as corn and wheat. However, it is harmful to crops such as
soybeans, canola and cotton, which also are broadleaf plants. The new
technology will allow the development of soybean and other broadleaf
crops that are highly tolerant to treatment with dicamba.

"The ability to use dicamba in the presence of broadleaf crops will give
growers more flexibility in managing their weed control challenges. We
are evaluating how to use this new tool in concert with our current
portfolio to best address grower needs,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s
chief technology officer and executive vice president.

In general, herbicide-tolerant crops allow growers to make fewer
application trips across their fields, reducing fuel consumption. They
also aid in soil-saving conservation tillage, Fraley said.

Under the agreement, Weeks’ lab potentially could receive up to $2.5
million over five years for further dicamba-tolerance research. Specific
terms of the agreement were not released, said Kannan Grant, UNL
associate vice chancellor for technology development.

Weeks began searching for a genetic source of dicamba tolerance more
than a decade ago.

"We knew there were bacteria that could degrade dicamba. The question
was whether you could get one to do that in a plant cell, which is a
completely different environment," he explained.

Weeks’ laboratory collaborated with UNL plant scientist Tom Clemente’s
research team on extensive studies that revealed they had an effective
gene. The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources' team inserted
the gene and grew out test soybean plants. Preliminary field trials
showed soybeans containing the gene can withstand spraying with dicamba
at five times the typical field use rates with no injury, but much
research and testing remain before a product comes on the market.

Commercialization of a dicamba-tolerant product is not expected until
the first part of the next decade, Fraley said.

Weeks said the agreement with Monsanto is a major step in turning his
findings into practical products.

"It always feels good to see your work move toward the point where it
ultimately will be useful," he said.

Monsanto is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and
agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.
For more information on Monsanto, see:

The UNL research that led to this discovery was conducted through the
university's Agricultural Research Division.