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March 28, 2016 Issue

The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information


Revolutionary Technology for Screening Individual Plants to Discover Genetic Traits for Drought Resistance and Cold Tolerance and Develop Improved Commercial Varieties



Dr. James W. Friedrich

President & CEO


Native Traits Corporation


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – March 28, 2016


CEOCFO: Dr. Friedrich, what is the concept behind Native Traits?

Dr. Friedrich: Native Traits Corporation is a company that focuses exclusively on non-GMO type traits. These would be naturally occurring genetic traits. We specialize in corn, that is, maize. Eventually this technology can also be used for other crops as well. That is our core competency--finding and utilizing naturally occurring genetic traits in corn.


CEOCFO: What is the process of finding them?

Dr. Friedrich: We have a proprietary technology that allows us to screen individual plants growing in a field situation. This is a technology that is being patented. We filed a patent to get the proprietary protection there. This technology allows us to look at individual plants that may be expressing a particular genetic trait of interest like drought resistance, cold tolerance or some other genetic trait that is of interest to seed companies and farmers as well.

CEOCFO: What is the name of the technology?

Dr. Friedrich: It is called NT RECOVERY™. The NT stands for native traits.

CEOCFO: Would you give us an idea of the amount of corn that is use and the various strains that exist?

Dr. Friedrich: Currently in the United States, the hybrid seed corn that is grown by farmers is almost entirely the GMO type. That is probably close to 90% of it. We are seeing a shift away from that not just because of health concerns but also because of economics and farmers are finding it less expensive to grow the conventional hybrids, provided they have these new genetic traits in them. Of course the Europeans and others have been very resistant to the GMO types. This technology that is using naturally occurring genetic traits appeals to them as well. We have had quite a bit of interest from European seed companies.


CEOCFO: What has been the problem in looking at natural traits previously? How is your technology able to find them?

Dr. Friedrich: The problem is that there is a vast resource of naturally occurring traits. If you look at all the heirloom varieties, open pollinated varieties and tropical varieties of corn that are kept in the various seed banks, principally the one that is maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture, you can screen these different varieties that are not being used currently in the seed industry and find these genetic traits but it is a very time consuming process. Also, these genetic traits are almost always coded by multiple genes. They are not very easy to move around from one plant to the next. If you find one in a particular variety, then the question is how you get it into a variety that can be used commercially. Many of these varieties that come out of the seed banks are adapted for tropical and other areas that are not the same as the mid-western part of the United States. That has been a big hurdle.


CEOCFO: How does NT RECOVERY allow you to find out what is happening?

Dr. Friedrich: Scientist have tried this over the years and the key is if you plant various experimental populations of corn in a research setting, if you plant them in a field, there is so much variability in the field itself that it is very hard to tell what is the genetic part that is due to the plant and what is the environmental part that is just because of variation in the soil and other things that may be occurring. What this allows us to do is measure individual plants very precisely - specifically, measure the yield of the individual plants as they may be affected by drought or cold stress.


CEOCFO: How do you get the plants?

Dr. Friedrich: It is a very remarkable situation in that there are many strains of corn that are maintained in the USDA seed bank as we might call it, in Ames Iowa. Virtually anyone who has a legitimate reason can simply go online to the USDA database for that particular seed bank and scroll through. You can do some online searching for particular types of varieties. You can find these and make a request for a sample of seeds. Pretty much routinely, the USDA will supply 100 kernels of any particular strain, as long as it is a legitimate enterprise, free of charge. It is available but you have to know what it is you are looking for because there is a lot of it.

CEOCFO: What do you look for and how do you know where the best possibilities might be?

Dr. Friedrich: A lot of that comes from experience. I have been working on this for my entire career for 30 years or more. Over time, and you know which ones are likely to work, and also by going into some of the other published literature, you can find references to varieties of corn that were grown many decades ago that farmers grew but were not ever really seriously considered by the modern hybrid seed corn companies.


CEOCFO: Are many people looking at developing something that does not involve genetic engineering in the way that you are at Native Traits?

Dr. Friedrich: I think it is something that quite a number of people would appreciate including many of the major, multinational companies with which we have interacted. They have all shown an interest in this, so I think we are at the forefront. We have the technology and we have the experience in working with these different genetic traits. That is what has carried the day for us.


CEOCFO: Your website shows a couple of products. Would you tell us what you are offering, to whom and what the products can achieve?

Dr. Friedrich: For EaSYTM, our first product, our flag ship product would be a trait called EaSY™, which is basically an acronym for an Enhanced Seed Yield. This is something of interest to seed companies in particular because it saves them money. Producing hybrid seed corn is a fairly costly enterprise and the particular lines that carry the EaSY™ trait are higher yielding, significantly so. Because they are higher yielding, that means the seed company does not have to spend as much money producing hybrid seed corn as they might otherwise. It is not a trait that is at the onset, going to cure drought stress or anything like that but it will save the seed company money just by lowering their cost of goods - cost of seed production.

CEOCFO: What are you physically selling and how is a company using it?

Dr. Friedrich: We license the genetic trait. We are not directly involved in the seed industry, we work with seed companies. We would basically provide them a sample of the genetic trait, we also have molecular markers, basically DNA fingerprints for the EaSYTM trait, which allows seed companies to very efficiently select for the EaSYTM trait or any other trait that we may offer. It is a licensing operation. We do not directly get involved in selling seed corn to the farmer.


CEOCFO: What is ExSelerateTM?

Dr. Friedrich: ExSelerateTM works differently from the EaSYTM trait and what it does is accelerate the grown of the corn plant early during the growing season. Originally, we thought it was just associated with cold tolerance, but as it turns out, it will actually accelerate the growth of corn plant under warm conditions or almost any kind of growing conditions. It is desirable for the corn plant to establish itself early during the season and reach flowering at an earlier stage. By doing so, the corn plant avoids the worst of the heat of the summer and also any kind of drought that may occur. Accelerating the vegetative development, basically the corn plant just grows faster during the early part of the season. Accelerating that makes the plant much more productive and less susceptible to drought and heat stress.

CEOCFO: Are there particular geographic regions or sizes and types of companies that show more interest or might have licensed or talked about licensing the products?

Dr. Friedrich: We are finding it is pretty much across the board. We have had the largest companies in the seed corn business as well as some of the smallest ones that are interested. We do not see that there is any particular bias one way or the other. Sometimes smaller companies move faster than larger companies just because they are less bureaucratic, but it is pretty much across the board. There is no real bias one way or the other.


CEOCFO: What surprised you throughout the whole process through a scientific point of view and from the business side?

Dr. Friedrich: From the scientific standpoint, I think what is most surprising is that oftentimes these traits have multiple effects. The ExSelerate trait is a good example in that it was originally developed for cold tolerance, but it also shows improvement in heat tolerance and potentially drought tolerance as well. That has been surprising. Of course that is very good. The surprising part from the business side, I guess what is interesting is that we get inquiries from across the globe. I had and inquiry just this morning from a very large company situated in India. We have had quite a bit of interest from companies in Europe and of course here in the US. It is pretty much a global thing.


CEOCFO: Would this translate for other crops as well?

Dr. Friedrich: Yes. The nice thing about corn is that it is a fairly easy crop to work with in terms of genetic studies. Once you identify the gene, then there is the possibility of looking for the same gene in other species. Oftentimes those genes exist; it is just that nobody knows what to look for. If we can identify a gene or set of genes of interest in corn, it makes it a whole lot easier to look for the same gene in potatoes, rice or some other crop.

CEOCFO: Do governments come into play for you or is it strictly private companies that engage with you?

Dr. Friedrich: It is mostly private companies. We find that universities are very helpful in terms of providing advice and they are good to interact with, but from a commercial standpoint, it would have to be a private company.


CEOCFO: Are you funded for the next steps you would like to take or are you looking for investments and partnerships?

Dr. Friedrich: We are always open for any kind of collaborative venture. We expect to probably have another round of financing later these year, something that has not been officially decided yet by or board or our shareholders. For the time being, we feel like we are in pretty good shape financially and we look forward to growing the company as much as possible, working with any interested stakeholder that might be around.


CEOCFO: Why is Native Traits Corporation important?

Dr. Friedrich: The company is important because as always, it is oftentimes the small companies that are the most innovative. We can do things that large companies probably would not be able to concentrate on as much as we can. We are very highly focused and we know exactly what we want to do. We have developed a proprietary technology to do so. I think we are also well positioned in the sense that many larger companies in agriculture right now are going through a pretty severe belt tightening just because the agricultural economy is somewhat depressed. We have been fairly immune to that so far. It is a very timely in that we have technology that can save companies money and make a crop that is better for the farmers at the same time.


CEOCFO: Final thoughts?

Dr. Friedrich: I think it is a glorious time for being in the seed industry. There are huge opportunities. New technologies are being developed all the time and we are always eager to interact with companies that may have something to offer us in terms of collaboration. We are always interested in talking to potential investors as well.


“Native Traits Corporation is a company that focuses exclusively on non-GMO type traits.” - Dr. James W. Friedrich


Native Traits Corporation


Dr. James W. Friedrich







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