Technology FAQ

Technology

Research and Development

What is the focus of Syngenta's R&D?

Our R&D program focuses on innovation to increase yields, quality, protect plants and improve resource efficiency in the field – by developing products and practices that reduce the land, water and energy needed to grow crops.

We use our deep understanding of plants and specialist expertise in seeds, Seedcare and crop protection to develop solutions that enable farmers to grow more from less and work with them to tailor our products to better meet their needs; those solutions may be based on one technology – such as chemistry or genetics – or a combination of technologies.

Growers face challenges in three key areas:

  • Biotic stress from weeds, pests and diseases
  • Abiotic stress (or environmental pressures) such as drought, reduced nutrients and irregular temperatures
  • Meeting demands from customers and consumers for improved nutritional composition, consumer appeal, shelf life and processing ease

Our research groups work together to combine technologies and develop integrated solutions that address farmer needs. The direction of new research is guided by our crop teams and based on customer need, technology, regulatory requirements and socio-political trends. R&D is at the heart of Syngenta's strategy and The Good Growth Plan.

Our Crop Protection research focuses on developing a range of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and crop enhancing chemicals with broad applicability such as foliar, soil and seed treatments. Our Seeds research and development program focuses on creating new varieties of major field crops, which include improved quality and productivity. This can include greater resistance to pests and diseases, or other environmental stresses, as well as characteristics such as improved customer appeal or enhanced shelf life.

Find out more about specific
research areas and see our Annual Review (p. 8) for more on our focus this year. 

How does Syngenta conduct crop protection R&D?

Crop Protection R&D is guided by customer need, technology and regulatory requirements, and provides Syngenta with innovative chemical and biological solutions. Aligning these new products with other technologies creates maximum value for our business.

Over 2,000 people work in Crop Protection R&D. At our major Crop Protection research centers, researchers use state-of-the-art synthetic chemistry, high-speed automated synthesis and biological methods to prepare the quantity and quality of compounds required for targeted biological screening. We use a structured design approach to chemistry that helps us develop chemical entities that have the properties most likely to relate to the desired product profile.

Once an active ingredient is ready for testing, we complete a series of trials to turn promising molecules into products that are safe to use, pass all registration requirements and meet customers' needs. The active ingredient's efficacy and safety is assessed as early as possible in the development process and all data are compiled for registration and safe product use.

We then test compounds on target crops under different climatic conditions and in varying soils around the world to develop appropriate formulations and processes to manufacture the product on a commercial scale that meats the demands from our customers.

On average, the registration of any new crop protection product takes eight to 10 years and costs around $260 million before a product is commercially launched.

How does Syngenta conduct seeds R&D?

Seeds R&D is dedicated to creating new varieties of major crops that offer improved quality and productivity, either alone or in combination with other technologies. This includes improving tolerance to pests and other environmental stresses, as well as enhancing quality characteristics such as nutritional composition, consumer appeal and shelf life.

Over 3,000 employees work in our Seeds R&D to advance the performance, stability and quality of seed varieties covering over 50 food and feed crops, including our strategic crops. We have established, and continue to develop, one of the most extensive germplasm libraries in the world and we have R&D agreements and alliances with other companies and academic institutions to further extend the base of germplasm and traits we have to work from.

We develop plants with desirable characteristics using both conventional breeding (to create either inbred lines or hybrids) and biotechnology.

Conventional plant breeding involves crossing carefully chosen parent plants, then selecting the best plants from the resulting offspring to be grown on for further selection. Once the best lines have been selected, they are purified to create 'inbred' lines, in which every plant has the same characteristics, and the process of multiplying seeds begins. For many crop varieties, we produce hybrid seeds - the result of the first cross between selected parents: these seeds are unique in producing 'hybrid vigor', which leads to improved yield, performance stability and better quality.

For certain crops, Syngenta also develops genetically modified (GM) plants where one or more genes of interest have been introduced to a plant via recombinant DNA technology instead of the plant acquiring them through conventional breeding. The process involved in the development of a new biotechnology trait is very complex. It takes around 13 years from the point of discovery of a new genetic sequence, which demonstrates changes in the plant metabolism or biological activity, through to the complex registration process required by regulators. All GM crops are thoroughly assessed for their safety to humans, animals and the environment before receiving final regulatory approval.

Where does Syngenta conduct R&D?

We employ over 5,000 people in our research and development centers and field stations around the world. Our main global research and development sites are in: Jealott's Hill, UK; Stein, Switzerland; Research Triangle Park and Greensboro, NC, USA; Goa, India; Beijing, China; Enkhuizen, Netherlands; and Saint-Sauveur, France.

We have major Crop Protection research centers focused on identifying new active ingredients for crop protection products in Stein, Jealott's Hill and Goa. Our biotechnology activities primarily take place in Research Triangle Park for both the research and development of key native and genetically modified traits, and in Beijing for early-stage evaluation of biotechnology traits. We also operate around 100 breeding and germplasm enhancement centers globally.

Read more about our R&D sites

Are environmental and health aspects taken into account throughout the R&D process?

Environmental and health aspects are considered throughout our R&D processes. We undertake comprehensive assessments of both human and environmental risks throughout the research and development process. This covers risks associated with all stages of development – from concept right the way through to final use and consumption. Our human safety assessments address potential risks to users of the product and the consumers of food and feed, while our environmental safety programs seek assurance that the product will not adversely affect soil, water, air, flora or fauna.

In order for a product to receive regulatory approval for registration we must first demonstrate that it is safe for workers, the environment, the crops being protected and the people or animals eating the food created from those crops.

For crop protection products, about 30% of the cost of a new active ingredient is spent on product safety. Many of the compounds we discover are not progressed past the early development stages because they don't meet our stringent safety requirements.

For genetically modified (GM) crops, rigorous laboratory and field studies are conducted to identify and assess potential toxic, allergenic or other unintended effects that may raise safety concerns. Agricultural biotechnology products are among the most stringently tested food products available on the market.

Does Syngenta profit from or contribute to external R&D activities?

We complement our in-house expertise through partnerships and collaborations to bring in novel technologies and exciting new offers to growers. We currently have over 500 R&D collaborations with universities, research institutes and commercial organizations around the world. These include collaborations with universities such as the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, Imperial College, UK, or Queensland University of Technology, Australia; or with research institutes such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and private companies such as Metabolon, Chromatin and Bayer CropScience.

Find out more about our collaborations on our
website, on our thoughtseeders portal – our online platform that gives potential partners an easy way to share new technologies or ideas with us, as well as in our Annual Review (p. 8).

Biotechnology

What is biotechnology? What is a genetically modified (GM) organism?

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to develop products with enhanced features and includes the use of genetic modification, also known as "gene technology" or "genetic engineering". This refers to the process of adding a specific gene (or genes) to an organism or removing one to produce a desirable, and often novel, characteristic. In agriculture, it allows the production of food and feed crops with improved characteristics such as higher yield, improved nutritional qualities, or resistance against insects and diseases. Biofuels may also be produced from GM crops.

Traditional farming practices have sought to combine crops that display useful characteristics to increase resistance to threats over an extended period of time. Since the start of crop cultivation thousands of years ago, farmers have looked for desirable traits to incorporate them into the following generation of plants. Originally they created new varieties by cross-breeding. This shuffled the plant's genes, leading to random variation, and the better plants were selected for replanting while the less interesting ones were discarded. By contrast, GM involves defining the desired characteristic in advance and then carefully selecting the gene that confers it. Developments in plant sciences have made it possible to identify desired 'traits' on a genetic level and to breed those desired traits safely and efficiently.

Read more about genetic modification on GMO Answers

Are GM crops really needed?

Farmers need every tool available to them to increase production using limited natural resources to meet the growing demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel as the global population rises. Biotechnology can improve productivity, secure yields and improve quality of crops, while minimizing the environmental impact of their production.

Biotechnology enables growers to achieve consistently high yields by making crops resistant to insect attacks or pathogens, or using herbicides so that weeds can be controlled more effectively. Genetically modified (GM) crops have enabled a 30% rise in corn yields in the US. The latest products are being developed to enable growers to respond to the effects of climate change such as drought and increasingly salty conditions.

We believe the benefits of genetic modification and other biotechnologies should be available to growers to help them grow more from less. GM food, feed and fuel products continue to be the most heavily tested and regulated in agriculture. We support this approach as it demonstrates that GM products are just as safe as conventional varieties.

Are GM crops safe for humans?

Yes. All genetically modified (GM) crops are subject to stringent regulations and testing of allergenic or toxic properties for humans and animals. People around the world have safely consumed GM foods on a daily basis for nearly 20 years. Leading scientific bodies, regulatory agencies and international organizations have concluded that GM crops are as safe as or safer than similar crops developed using more conventional breeding methods.

Do GM crops cause allergies?

No. Food allergies are a concern for many people. Approximately 90% of food-related allergies are caused by proteins found in a range of common foods: tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans and wheat1. Introducing generic material from these foods is avoided in developing GM products. GM crops are always screened for potential allergens as part of the approval process. Also, biotechnology is now being used to modify or remove existing allergens from certain foods



1US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; US Department of Health and Human Services; Food Allergy – an Overview; July 2007

Are GM crops safe for the environment?

Biotechnology delivers biodiversity benefits in numerous ways with minimal impacts on non-target organisms. By building in an ability to fight particular pests, insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops avoid the need for pesticides with minimal impacts on non-target species. Bt corn, for example, uses protein derived from the soil micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), also used as a pesticide in organic farming. Bt proteins target specific pests and degrade rapidly so they have a low impact on the broader environment.

There is no credible evidence that existing GM crops are or could be any more difficult to manage than conventionally-bred crops. Both conventionally-bred and GM crops are developed to have certain traits that are beneficial for agricultural purposes. These traits do not make them – or any hybrids created through cross-pollination with other plants – any more fit for survival in the wild. In fact, such crops are unable to compete with wild plants and do not survive long without continued cultivation.1



1Crawley M J, Brown S L, Hails R S, Kohn D D and Rees M; "Biotechnology: Transgenic Crops in Natural Habitats"; Nature 409 (2001): 682-683

Do GM crops increase the use of pesticides?

Genetically modified (GM) crops do not increase the use of pesticides under good management practices. Some cases show the opposite: crops that can resist disease or pests do not require treatment. Cotton, for example, traditionally requires spraying to control pests inside the cotton ball, but the development of insect resistant GM cotton has greatly reduced the use of pesticides.

Do GM crops compromise other types of food production?

Good agricultural practices – that farmers have often been using for many years – help minimize mixing of crops and enable the various agricultural production systems to coexist in a particular country or region. These include separation of crops by space and time, communicating with neighbors, use of good husbandry, planting, harvest and storage practices.

How much revenue does Syngenta generate from GM products?

We sell genetically modified (GM) seeds for a number of crops, mainly corn, soybean and sugar beet as well as some other smaller crops.

The percentage of our total revenues generated from GM was just under 10% in the past 3 years, representing about 40% of our global seeds sales. Countries where our GM seed is cultivated include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the Philippines, Vietnam and the US. We sell genetically modified (GM) seeds for a number of crops, mainly corn, soybean and sugar beet as well as some other smaller crops.

What is Syngenta's position on labeling of GM products?

We adhere to all local legislation regarding labeling of genetically modified (GM) products and we support the use of accurate and informative GM product labeling. All our seed bags are labeled to allow traceability throughout the supply chain, and we work closely with our suppliers and regulators to make sure that the information we provide is meaningful to the customer, enabling them to choose which products they want to use.

We believe that consumers should be well informed about the types of foods available – providing choices about the food they buy. Labeling of GM produce enables this choice, but is not a safety issue, since GM products are subject to extensive safety assessments. Our view is that governments wishing to implement GM labeling in the interests of consumer choice must display the importance of providing consumer information with the associated costs and practicalities.

Read more about product GM labeling across the industry at GMO Compass


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