Missouri Patent of the Month – June 2023
Pennycress, also known as fanweed or stinkweed, is a winter cover crop that offers numerous benefits to agriculture and the environment. It helps protect soil from erosion, prevents the loss of farm-field nitrogen into water systems, and improves soil productivity. Recently, there has been growing interest in using pennycress as a novel cover crop that also serves as a valuable source of oil for biofuel production. Researchers have been working on optimizing pennycress seeds to provide additional sources of nutrition to animals.
CoverCress, Inc. (CCI), an agtech company, has made significant progress in developing improved pennycress seeds. The company works to develop climate-smart agricultural products that contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Through this mission, the company has worked to convert field pennycress into a more useful crop via advanced breeding and gene editing tools.
A recent patent covers their work identifying specific genetic mutations in the pennycress genes that result in desirable traits. One of the key discoveries is the development of pennycress seed meal with a reduced level of non-digestible fiber, making it a more competitive animal feed ingredient. This defatted seed meal has an acid detergent fiber (ADF) content ranging from 7% to 25% by dry weight, and it contains a detectable amount of polynucleotides with loss-of-function mutations in the pennycress genes.
Another variation is the non-defatted pennycress seed meal, which has an ADF content of 5% to 20% by dry weight. It also contains the same loss-of-function mutations in the pennycress genes. Both defatted and non-defatted seed meals exhibit a lighter color compared to traditional seed meals obtained from wild-type pennycress seeds.
These compositions offer new opportunities for sustainable optimization of agricultural systems. With the widespread availability of idle land, farmers can consider growing pennycress after a corn crop and before the next soybean crop. This approach helps prevent soil erosion, improves soil nitrogen and pest management, and provides an additional income source through the sale of pennycress oil and meal.
Methods for making defatted and non-defatted seed meals, as well as pennycress seed cakes, are provided. These methods involve processes such as grinding, macerating, extruding, and crushing the seed lots to obtain the desired compositions. Additionally, seed lots comprising populations of pennycress seeds with specific ADF content and genetic mutations are available.
The development of these improved pennycress seeds has been supported by federal funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA. CoverCress’ research highlights the potential of pennycress as a sustainable and valuable crop for farmers, with benefits for both the agricultural industry and the environment.
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