Kansas, City, Missouri, USA
May 5, 2020
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, today congratulates Dr. Sally Mackenzie, founder of Epicrop Technologies Inc., for publication of an important discovery in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.
The paper describes important epigenetic mechanisms that plants use to respond to environmental stress. Plants cannot typically pick up their roots and move to avoid a stress, but they can employ these mechanisms – described as “memory” – to change the relative expression levels of their existing genes. As a result, some of their progeny appears to be better adapted to resist the stress.
Previous research showed that manipulation of one critical gene, MSH1, can be effectively used to control this process and create enhanced plants with improved vigor and yield. The epigenetic technology involves the expression of existing DNA; it does not require the introduction of new genetic material from another source.
“The finding has important implications for plant and crop breeding,” said Brad Fabbri, Ph.D., TechAccel Chief Science Officer. “Dr. Mackenzie’s group has worked for years to advance the science behind MSH1 and has demonstrated promising results in multiple plant species.”
He added: “In light of climate change, environmental stress and increased demand for food, our crops are under increasing pressure. This technology gives us a new way to help equip plants with the resiliency to respond.”
Dr. Mackenzie is a professor of plant science in the College of Agricultural Sciences and professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science. She holds the Lloyd and Dottie Huck Chair for Functional Genomics and serves as the director of the Plant Institute at Penn State. She founded Epicrop, an agricultural biotechnology company, following her research discoveries in epigenetics while at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
TechAccel’s business model funds the commercialization of promising research in ag biotechnology and animal health.
TechAccel has supported Dr. Mackenzie’s research since investing in Epicrop’s extended Series A round in 2017. Since then, Epicrop and TechAccel have launched two ventures to apply Epicrop’s epigenetic platform to canola and strawberry crop improvements, while Epicrop focuses on increasing yields and stress tolerance in soy and tomato.
”What is most compelling about the MSH1 system is it's amenability to application,” Mackenzie said. “The system is basically ready for deployment in soybean and tomato."
Fabbri said, “This research could have significant impact in global agriculture. We’re honored to be collaborating with Dr. Mackenzie and her team.”