The acquisition complements BASF Plant Sciences existing gene discovery activities and extends its position in access to agronomically important genetic traits. CropDesign specialises on traits for yield-enhancement, drought tolerance and improved nutrient use efficiency of crops such as corn and rice.
Traits are important plant characteristics driven by genes and are the basis of the commercial use of plant biotechnology. BASF Plant Sciences long-term strategy is to develop next generation plant biotechnology products that offer clear benefits for consumers and the environment.
Indeed, BASF is convinced that crops with higher yields will become increasingly important to meet the nutritional needs of a growing global population.
"In 15 years we will have close to eight billion people on our planet, almost 1.5 billion more than today," said BASF board member Peter Oakley.
"With lead times of 12 to 15 years in research we have no time to lose."
BASF's recently announced plans to invest $320 million over the next three years in the development of what it calls 'next generation' biotech crops. This announcement, together with the recent acquisition, demonstrates BASF's intention to expand its involvement in agriculture and nutrition.
"BASF has identified plant biotechnology as the largest of five key future-growth clusters," said Dr Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science.
BASF would not be doing this if there were not sufficient demand. More and more farmers are planting GM crops, while traditionally hostile regulators such as those in the EU are softening up to the technology.
Indeed, demand has driven annual double-digit increases in biotech crop adoption since the crops were first commercialised a decade ago, with four new countries and a quarter million more farmers planting biotech crops last year. The 8.5 million farmers planting biotech crops in 2005 also marked a significant milestone as the 1 billionth cumulative acre, or 400 millionth hectare, was planted.
"CropDesigns excellent portfolio of important agronomical traits will significantly strengthen our product pipeline of higher yielding crops," said Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science.
"The screening capacities of CropDesign and the BASF Plant Science company Metanomics in Berlin offer us both a worldwide unique combination of screening parameters and an extremely high throughput of genes to be tested. This secure us a strong and sustainable competitive advantage to continuously develop our position among the market leaders in plant biotechnology."
BASF Plant Science's research is based on the metabolic profiling technology at Metanomics. Here, scientists identify the metabolic functions of every plant gene, which allows the development of plants with desired characteristics.
The database contains metabolic profiles associated with approximately 30,000 plant genes - knowledge that is already unique to BASF in plant biotech industry.
In December 2005, BASF Plant Science and CropDesign already signed a broad licence and research agreement. The acquisition now secures BASF Plant Science full access to additional traits and to all research and development options of the company that were not yet covered.
Both parties agreed not to disclose financial details. BASF said that CropDesigns employees will continue to work at the research facilities in Gent, Belgium, which will become a unit within BASF Plant Science.