Can PGX Change the World?

Every entrepreneur has the vision they can change the world.  We at PGX believe we can change the world, for the better, one plant at a time!

Globally, every single day, Mankind strips away 35,000ha of forest.  Every day our remaining forests process 35,000,000 less tonnes of CO2; and every day the world’s remaining forests generate 93,000,000 less tonnes oxygen than they did the day before.

We’re destroying the lungs of our Earth.  (This is a key thesis in our headline PolyGenomX Video.)

To reverse this we must plant more trees than we cut down, but without the promise of short term gains humans are generally slow to act – even when that is in our own long-term interests.

Fortunately, PGX plants come with a promise of significant, short-term gains for anyone engaged in a plant-based enterprise.  30% increase in yield, or three harvests in place of two – all for no increase in inputs – promises huge increases in profits.  Strong incentives to use more of our plants.

Fortunately, they also come with incidental short-term gains for our environment.  An exponential 30%-50% increase in biomass means a 30%-50% increase in carbon dioxide extracted from our atmosphere, and a 30%-50% increase in oxygen, water vapour, and rain-forming nuclei.  This translates to increased cloud cover, increased rainfall, and decreased temperatures and, because they offer a more profitable alternative, may also reduce the destruction of old growth forests and native habitat.

Regardless of how sophisticated we are, at base we eat either plants or animals that eat plants. In the absence of plants neither coal, nor iron ore nor gold will sustain us.  Using more of our plants can.

How PGX’s Plants Reduce GHG (Greenhouse Gas) Emissions

Each hectare of polygenomic plants uses an average 100 tonnes more CO2 each year than the equivalent area of standard (diploid) plants.  Accordingly, we estimate that 10 million hectares of our plants will use 1 billion tonnes EXTRA CO2 every year.

If those plants are used for renewable energy, they prevent the release of a TOTAL 6 billion tonnes of “old fossil fuel carbon” into our atmosphere, or 1 billion tonnes MORE than can be hoped from the next best currently available renewable feed stocks.

Why?

Most plants grow by cycling CO2 into their leaves where sunlight powers chemical reactions that crack the CO2 into Carbon (which becomes plant sugars, the basic building blocks for all growth) and Oxygen (which is expelled as waste).

Standard plants are not 100% “carbon efficient”. One cycle in three or four they expend energy but fail to crack a CO2 molecule.  These energy-wasting cycles are called “photo-respiration”.

Our plants all but eliminate photo-respiration and so use up to 50% more atmospheric carbon for the same expenditure of time, energy, water and nutrients, accelerating growth and so using more-on-more carbon.

Faster-growing stress-tolerant disease-resistant plants which yield more in less time for no increase in inputs are more profitable and so many agricultural and silvicultural enterprises will progressively adopt polygenomic plants as their standard.

As fields and forests transition to our plants, more and more CO2 will be drawn from the atmosphere and locked into plant growth while more oxygen and moisture will be recycled into the atmosphere.

Healing Japan – using PGX Plants

We were recently asked by a potential partner: “What is the current relevance of PolyGenomX technology for Japan?

By way of at least opening discussion on the topic, the following three applications suggest themselves to us:

1. Salt-tolerant rice: Given the impact of seawater inundation on coastal rice growing areas in Japan (and other countries), there is an obvious need for the development of deeply salt-tolerant rice varieties as a key component to returning these areas to agriculture, to production and to prosperity as a foundation for the restoration and healing of affected communities. PolyGenomX (PGX) has the demonstrated capacity to develop deeply salt-tolerant varieties of any plant and is now documenting a recent project based on Arundo donax (Giant Reed which, like rice, is a monocotyledon). The plants developed in that project are capable of thriving in salt concentrations half that of seawater, breaking the salt down into its component elements and leaving no waste salt in their environment.

2. Bioremediation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster zone:  The failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant contaminated ground and ocean waters within a radius of 30-50 km with significant amounts of radioactive material including caesium-137, resulting in a ban on the sale of food grown in the area.  In the case of Chernobyl (estimated to have had 10 times the fall out of Fukushima) efforts have been applied to using Industrial Hemp as a “bio sponge” to take up the radioactive dust lying on and in the top couple of millimetres of ground in the fallout zone.  PGX believes that there may be greater value in using salt tolerant Giant Reed to desalinate the soil, simultaneously providing an immediate income from abundant biomass and/or biofuel in the process. The reed is the idea renewable energy feedstock for cellulosic digestion to ethanol, or for gasification to syngas and will concentrate radioactive waste for extraction during the energy generation processes.

3. Polygenomic Paulownia  as a valued timber stock: Paulownia tomentosa (also known as kiri, Empress Tree or Princess Tree) is a versatile, fast-growing tree particularly suited to Japan’s environment and culture, and offers a range valuable applications from furniture, carved artefacts and stringed instruments to renewable energy in the form of biomass, syngas and ethanol, and its large leaves hold sufficient protein as to provide high quality cattle fodder. PGX has developed uniquely salt-tolerant varieties of this species (though at lower tolerance levels than Giant Reed – 5g/L for Paulownia Reed vs 16g/L for reed before yield quality and quantity are affected). PGX has developed polygenomic varieties of Paulownia designed to suit various environments and applications and this tree may form a valuable diversification element for an integrated bioremediation strategy of the tsunami zone to bring those lands back into production immediately – and into normality within a relatively short timeframe.

We  would welcome the opportunity to apply our technology and know-how to these large challenges… which aren’t isolated to Japan!

Who owns the genes?

In a  recent article by ABC reporters Eleanor Bell and Suzanne Smith titles “Future of food now a global battle” the issue of gene patenting was examined in the context of current research to uncover the genes responsible for stress and drought resistence (something that PolyGenomX has extensive knowledge of). Snippets of the report below, for the full article click here.

The race is on to find and patent all the known stress resistant and drought resistant plant genes in the world. The largest private and public seed, biotech and agrichemical companies and institutions have been granted at least 900 patents over plant genes that will be able to survive a world beset by climate change.

Scientists predict continents such as Africa will need crops that can survive at least a two degree rise in temperature, otherwise thousands of people could starve.

With predictions too that the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, governments are also involved in building seed banks and working with big multinationals to find stress-resistant genes that can be scientifically altered to make plants more resilient.

According to Monsanto Australia’s Peter O’Keefe, Australia is in a unique position to benefit from and contribute to solving the global food shortage expected over the next few decades.

“We’re a big exporter on the world stage, so it’s important that we do our bit,” he said.

“But secondly, Australian farmers need to remain competitive, so we need to have access new technologies and particularly biotechnology to be able to increase production and remain competitive.”

But concerns about the rise in the number of patents being awarded to the top 10 multinational companies, who also have significant market share in seeds, chemicals and other essential farming stock, has prompted Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to launch another inquiry into the issue of patents over genes.

The inquiry, to begin on June 30, will look at whether the patents granted already over plant genes give too much control to companies and institutions and how that control might affect farmers in the future.

A recent Senate inquiry into patents on human genes is expected to report in early June. A landmark court case in the US has also found patents were wrongly awarded over the breast cancer BRCA 1 and 2 genes; the company who owns the patents, Myriad Technologies, is appealing the decision. Currently Myriad Technologies charges women in the United States more than $3,000 for the breast cancer susceptibility test to see whether they carry the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. There is no second opinion tests allowed.

Senator Heffernan says, “In terms of national security and sovereignty, countries need to have control over their seed production not necessarily commercially controlled; now, if a company in America owns the absolute gene patent to a seed bank where does it leave countries like Africa (sic) and God knows where?”

Owning nature

But there is debate about whether the patents are actually granted over natural biological material. Supporters of the patents say the companies who have isolated the genes have done so by using an “invention” and therefore should be allowed control over the genes. Opponents believe the genes are natural biological material and no different when transferred to a lab environment and therefore should be judged as a “discovery” and not be allowed to be patented. The US District Court in the Myriad case found that the patents were null and void because the genetic material claimed in the patents was identical to that which exists inside the body.

Monsanto Australia – one of the top five multinational companies in the seed, biotech and agrichemicals business – says patents drive innovation. Executive director Peter O’Keefe says, “Without patents there’s no reward for commercial companies that spend a lot of time and effort on research and development, discovery and innovation. Patents are the key to ensuring that this research continues.”

He says Monsanto will be applying for more plant gene patents in the future and is happy to comply with Australian regulatory processes.

“We’re in the process of commercialising water-use efficient or drought tolerant corn in North America at the moment. It’s hypothetical but if we were able to bring that product to Australia then we would go through the regulatory process.”

Monsanto rejects Senator Heffernan’s belief that there is no inventive stage in the current plant gene patents.

“There’s a misconception that genes can be patented, that genetic material in its native state can be patented, and that’s incorrect. There has to be a lot more involved in the patent application than just picking a piece of genetic material and slapping a patent on it … it is about combining those genes with other genetic material, reinserting it into another plant. So the plants are lot more complicated than what we call genes or what we refer to genes.”(PGX note – this is specific to GMO’s, our plant technology recreates a natural process called polyploidy in which the plant replicates its genetic material in response to stress, polygenomic plants created through our unique technology are NOT GMO!)

Monsanto says it broadly licenses its developments so the technology is widely used and not restricted. The company says it also waives licence fees and is not charging royalties on some crops in Africa as a philanthropic exercise.

Global markets and the patent system

Geoff Tansey, trustee of the UK Food Ethics Council and author of The Future Control of Food, says global markets and the OECD nations have developed a patent system that benefits the big players and not the small operators and farmers.

Under the World Trade Agreement, all countries must sign up to the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights or ‘TRIPS’ convention. The convention forces each country to protect patent owners’ rights. Trade sanctions can be issued if signatories fail to honour patent holders’ intellectual property rights.

 

The impact on science

The CSIRO has patents on plant genes in crops, and benefits from revenue generated by its patents. One of its scientists, Dr TJ Higgins, is optimistic about the future of crop biodiversity.

“We have access to 300 different crops at least for food. Intellectual property rights are probably concentrated on five or six out of that group so I don’t see it as a major threat … but from the point of food security for the future I don’t see it as playing a major role. It’s much more important that we get stuck into research and development to feed the nine billion people.”

Dr Higgins says being fearful of patents is an old-fashioned view.

“When people say that patents are the worst thing to happen to Australian agriculture I think that’s a simple view of the world and probably not all that realistic. It would be nice to go back to the old ways, but the world has changed,” he said.

One patent expert, Dr Richard Jefferson, a molecular biologist and founder of a not-for-profit research organisation CAMBIA, says patents are encouraging the push to monetise research outcomes in the public sector. He says this could have severe implications for the type of science performed in Australia.

While Dr Jefferson believes Monsanto’s research is a critically important area of investigation, because of Australia’s arid environment he says the public sector should pursue different research initiatives.

“In our rush to find one effective tool, we may neglect many other alternatives that are very effective,” Dr Jefferson said.

He says complex research involving changing agricultural eco-systems through pest introduction or crop rotations aren’t receiving adequate funding. These methods, developed in paddocks and laboratories alike, often require interdisciplinary research and are difficult to commercialise.

 

Researchers warn delays thwart efforts to save Indonesia’s environment

 by Tom Arup

March 27, 2012

Destroyed … Kalimantan peat swamp.

A $47 million Australian government project to restore Indonesian forests and peatland to protect large carbon stores has been quietly scaled back and is failing to meet even its modest revised goals, new research has found.

The findings follow an investigation by ANU academics Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes into the progress of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships project, launched in 2007 by the Howard government and since continued under Labor.

The project had originally aimed to re-flood 200,000 hectares of dried peatland, protect 70,000 hectares of peat forests, and plant 100 million trees in Central Kalimantan.

But in a new paper, the researchers say advice they received from AusAid officials in February suggests that now just over 10 per cent – or 25,000 hectares – of the original 200,000 hectares of peatland is expected to be re-flooded.

The authors also say to date only 50,000 trees have been replanted, well short of the 100 million target first touted.

There has also been little progress on removing large canals to drive the peatland re-flooding, due to delays around local environment permits.

Professor Howes and Mr Olbrei said delays in implementing many elements of the project would mean ”in our judgment, it is unlikely that the project, even in its scaled-back form, will be complete by July 2013”

The Kalimantan project is part of a $273 million government program to develop global action on reducing deforestation and developing a forest carbon offset market.

The researchers said the slow progress of such projects compared with the rapid rate of deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia, meant current approaches were not working. They recommended that if Australia decided to remain in the project it should be more ambitious, supported by high-level policy dialogue and larger public funds.

A spokesman for the Department of Climate Change said they were working with the Indonesian government to deliver on the objectives of the Kalimantan project in as short a time as possible, but did not have any plans to increase funding.

”As an innovative project, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships is trialling new approaches.

”There have been challenges during the project so far; we are using those to learn and improve our approaches,” the spokesman said.

– Interesting follow up to this story is that PolyGenomX has previously developed a Eucalyptus robusta specifically for growing in the Peat Swamps of Borneo!