Three Questions With...Tosca Ferber form Dümmen Orange
When Tosca Ferber arrived as Research Director at Dümmen Orange in 2016, she and her team started to work to develop a system focusing on ornamental crops. This, and also a workflow that involves the whole company, help to respond quickly to the consumer demand for novelty products, one of the main characteristics of the actual market, according to Tosca. Read this attractive interview with Tosca and learn more about the breeding program of Dümmen Orange, the challenges on Intellectual Property Rights, and the current legislation in the EU.
1.- How does Dümmen Orange work in R&D? What is the structure and what innovations have been implemented during the last years?
R&D is one of the pillars of Dümmen Orange and has a strong presence inside the complete company. When I arrived in 2016, our team was using the same process as the vegetable breeding industry: finding resistances, genetically mapping them, developing markers, etc. Then, when we got to know the crops and their targets, we realized that this approach was not the best for this industry, and since then we have been working to develop an exclusive system focused on our ornamental crops.
Despite that resistance traits are gaining a lot of interest in the market, qualitative traits or more complex ones like shell life, plant habits, and yield remain crucial for the success of new varieties. For this reason, although we have a strong focus on resistance breeding, we also had to develop a different approach to improve our varieties for the more complex traits.
Another interesting aspect of our breeding and research program is what we are doing in terms of predictive breeding. All our crops benefit from the in-house developed software tool to select crossing parents and their offspring in a data informed way. By using the tool, the breeders can select parents and varieties that are the best genetically rather than phenotypically.
There is something unique about the ornamental breeding industry in that there is a great demand for novelty driven by the market. This high refreshment index is something breeders need to keep in mind when balancing their innovations and investments with the lifespan of their varieties.
In order to respond in a timely manner to this requirement for new products, the connection between the different work teams within the company is essential. At Dümmen Orange we work daily to generate this synergy because we know that this is the platform for the future.
2.- The European Commission published the result of their consultation, "Legislation for plants produced by Certain New Genomic Technics," and 79% of participants found existing provisions of the GMO legislation are not adequate for plants obtained by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis. - What is your opinion about the current policies in Europe regarding new genomic technics?
When we face this discussion, it is always necessary to keep in mind something very important: the lifespan of ornamentals varieties and the demand of the market for novelty all the time, make the turn-around time of ornamental varieties short. This high turn-around time poses a risk on the Return On Investments (ROI), as the regulatory process makes the clearance of varieties very expensive.
The current policy makes the development of new varieties with these genomic techniques very costly and unprofitable for ornamentals. This is very unfortunate, as these New Breeding Techniques could offer major solutions, especially for our sustainability goals.
This existing situation is difficult for breeding companies in Europe because we are not on the same level compared to companies outside Europe. Furthermore, enforcement of the legislation will be problematic for the EU Commission as diagnosis tools to monitor genetic variation created using New Breeding Techniques are limited or non-existent. So we cannot prevent these kinds of varieties to penetrate our market, and at the same time, we cannot move forward with these new techniques either.
3.- How important is it for Dümmen Orange and the research department to have a clear and robust intellectual property law?
For us, it is very important and again comes back directly to the ROI. Any technology development requires high investment, and being able to protect your investment through intellectual property law will improve the opportunity for any company to invest in technology. For us, patenting is not a matter to exclude others actors from the industry, it is a matter to capture the value that a specific trait has in the market.
Having these patents and having them available for licensing them out to fellow breeders makes these traits widely accessible to the market. Currently, with the limited patenting possibilities in the market, many developments have to be kept as company secrets; a situation that limits consumer access to novel traits.
The New Genomic Techniques (NGT) will increase the patentability of traits. If we make thees NGT more easily and widely available to the ornamentals then you increase the opportunity to protect the developments you have made.
Even smaller breeding companies could access these new traits without making a huge investment. In this line, one good practice where we can learn a lot is the International Licensing Platform (https://www.ilp-vegetable.org/about-ilp/) an organization that has as the main objective to guarantee worldwide access to patents that cover biological material for vegetable breeding.