The announcement demonstrates BASF's intention to expand its involvement in agriculture and nutrition and shows that GM technology is increasingly being seen as the future of food production by big business at least.
"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.
"Through the investment in plant biotechnology, BASF is expanding its leading role with products in the area of agriculture and nutrition. By combining our advanced technology platform with our comprehensive product portfolio, BASF is shaping the future of this industry."
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.
The planned investment will further increase BASF's capacity in this field. The Plant Science division already employs approximately 500 employees, who form part of the global BASF Research Verbund, a large, international R+D network comprised of numerous co-operations with research institutes, universities and biotech companies.
Metanomics for example is a BASF Plant Science company based in Germany, which covers BASFs gene-discovery research. Scientists at Metanomics work to identify the metabolic functions of each and every plant gene, which allows for the development of plants with desired characteristics.
"Metanomics is our competitive advantage in this market, and our products will demonstrate the benefits of this research," said Kast.
To apply this gene-mapping knowledge to optimise and control specific traits in a plant, BASF uses the expertise of scientists at SunGene, another BASF Plant Science company in Germany. SunGene focuses on metabolic engineering of biosynthetic pathways in order to increase the content of valuable compounds in plants, such as vitamins, carotenoids and proteins.
In addition, SunGene develops transformation and enabling technologies for highly efficient transfer and expression of genes in crop plants.
The company now believes that its first genetically modified plants are ready for the global market. The Germany-based chemical giant unveiled its plans at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation's (BIO) annual convention.
A major focus has been placed on healthier nutrition, underscored by the development and commercialisation of new corn products for the feed industry in the US. An example is NutriDense, a nutritionally enhanced corn that offers more protein, more essential amino acids, more oil/energy, more available phosphorous, and thus less environmental emissions.
BASF's increased involvement in this field reflects a softening up of the regulatory environment in Europe, increased demand and, perhaps, growing consumer acceptance.