USDA Patents Microbes to Fight Wheat Fungus

J.E. Shields
Fri, 21 Jul 2006 10:16:56 PDT

I'm not a lawyer either, but worked with the firm's patent attorneys while 
I was active in research.

So this is sort of my impression of where things were about 10 years ago, 
kind of.

In the U.S., you can patent genes, and genetically modified organisms, like 
"knock-out mice" for instance.  You can patent natural products if you are 
the first to discover or identify them.  In plants, I think (?) you can 
patent selected clones and seed strains.  So selecting for a strain of 
bacteria or fungus that produces a useful product or effect is not much 
more far-fetched.

I think the E.U. is much less inclined to allow patents on modified 
animals, at least.

Jim Shields
biochemist retired from the pharmaceutical industry

At 09:59 AM 7/21/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>This is slightly off-topic, but I thought you had to breed a new or
>different kind of strain of a plant or propagate a particular clone in
>order to patent it. I didn't think you could just discover a new
>species and patent it outright. Since the article below is referring to
>fungi and bacteria, neither of which are plants, are the rules
>different? And furthermore, what about animals, including mammals? If
>you develop a new breed of cat or dog, can you patent it these days? Or
>that new species of rodent they discovered in Southeast Asia not too
>long ago: Can the entire species be patented by its discoverers? It
>seems weird to find a fungus that naturally secretes an antibiotic that
>kills some disease (rather than being genetically modified to do so),
>and then patent it without you having "invented" or developed it in any
>way. All you did was find it.
>I guess not being a lawyer, I just don't understand what the original
>intent of granting patents really is.
>--Lee Poulsen
>Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a
>USDA Patents Microbes to Fight Wheat Fungus
>By Jan Suszkiw
>July 17, 2006
>Four yeasts and three bacteria that live on flowering wheat heads, but
>cause no harm there, have been patented by the U.S. Department of
>Agriculture (USDA) as biological control agents in the fight against
>Fusarium head blight (FHB).
>Caused by the fungus Fusarium graminearum, FHB is among the most costly
>diseases of cereal crops worldwide, including wheat, barley and oats.
>  From 1998 to 2000, FHB epidemics in U.S. small grains inflicted an
>estimated $2.7 billion worth of losses, notes David Schisler. He is a
>plant pathologist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's
>chief scientific research agency.
>The fungus infects wheat through its flower tissues, including anthers.
>But competition for space and nutrients there is fierce, according to
>studies by Schisler and colleagues at the ARS National Center for
>Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., and at Ohio State
>University (OSU) in Columbus. Indeed, some of the bacteria and yeasts
>that the researchers isolated from wheat anthers secrete antibiotics,
>or use other means, to keep the fungus at bay--to the wheat plant's
>To exploit this "natural antagonism," Schisler and OSU colleagues
>Michael Boehm and Naseem Khan devised fermentation procedures to
>culture quantities of the beneficial microbes for application to
>flowering wheat heads. The four yeasts and three bacteria that have
>been patented (U.S. No. 7,001,755) were the "top picks" from about 700
>microbial specimens the scientists evaluated for their fungus-fighting
>prowess. Of these seven, yeast strain OH 182.9 performed the best in
>field trials, reducing FHB's severity in spring, winter and durum
>wheats by 20 to 60 percent.
>USDA's patenting of this approach to controlling FHB is a critical
>first step towards garnering the commercial interest necessary to
>develop the microbes as registered biological control products that can
>be used separately or in specific combinations on wheat or other cereal
>crops. Their development, along with more FHB-resistant wheat
>varieties, is especially appealing because the use of foliar fungicides
>is complicated by timing and availability by state.
>pbs mailing list

Jim Shields             USDA Zone 5             Shields Gardens, Ltd.
P.O. Box 92              WWW:
Westfield, Indiana 46074, USA
Tel. ++1-317-867-3344     or      toll-free 1-866-449-3344 in USA

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