Like Ceres, Mendel Biotechnology, Hayward, CA, is a “product of the genomic era of the late 1990s,” says Mendel CEO and President Neal Gutterson. His company focuses on the application of functional genomics to develop dedicated energy crops as well as agronomic crops with beneficial traits. It has relationships with other companies, including Monsanto Company, for the commercialization of improved seed products.

In April, Mendel announced it will work with Monsanto to enhance the development of its dedicated energy seeds. Monsanto will lend crop testing, breeding and seed production expertise.

Field testing will help identify the best varieties for eventual commercialization, says Mike Edgerton, ethanol and quality traits technical lead, Monsanto.

Over the past few years, Mendel collaborated with a group in China on miscanthus collection. In addition to the plant material from China, Mendel acquired a miscanthus breeding program from Germany. The company now has about 2,000 accessions in its collection. It is studying these cultivars for use as bioenergy feedstocks and is working with Monsanto and other collaborators on the first U.S. field trials of seed-propagated miscanthus varieties in several Southeastern and Midwestern states. The research is focused on identifying first-generation seed-propagated varieties and best breeding parents for future varieties.

Many good public varieties will be used initially and will require government subsidies to be cost competitive on a large scale, Gutterson says. Mendel is developing high-performing feedstocks that will not require subsidies to be competitive, he adds. The company's goal is to be a stand-alone seed producer, distributor and marketer. It also is working on forage sorghum as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock.

Last year, Mendel entered into an agreement with BP, the British oil and natural gas company, to develop a seed business based on these energy crops. A shareholder, BP is funding a five-year biofuels research program at Mendel.