And Then There Were 4: A Changing Landscape Impacting the Society and Its Members

Over the past 2-3 years, the agricultural biotech and seeds industry has gone through another huge round of changes.  The resulting changes has impacted not only the industry but also the Society for In Vitro Biology and its members.  The plant section has been well supported by the industry with 6 (more or less) constant contributors over the years.  In addition, the society has been well supported by section and board members as employees of these businesses with large contingents from these large players attending the annual meetings as presenters, organizers and attendees.  These big six are now the big 4 with Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto and Dupont/Pioneer’s merger with Dow (creating Corteva).  With these mergers and acquisitions have come more changes including Bayer’s divestment of its seeds and traits assets to BASF and ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta.

These changes have brought colleagues together.  Former President Todd Jones now is a colleague in the same company as this year’s plant section chair Piero Berone.  Multiple former Monsanto colleagues active in the society are now in the same company as some Bayer colleagues.  Here, though, due to the Department of Justice and world-wide regulatory agencies regulating business requirements which disallowed certain colleagues coming together – at least at the company level, Bayer was required to sell off its seeds and trait assets including its Bayer Vegetable seed (Nunhems) business.  Also included was the Bayer Liberty Link® business (most of the transformation scientists will be familiar with Bar or Pat gene for selection).  This divestment has had a personal impact.  I am now with BASF and not with Bayer.  As a side, I was formerly with BASF – my recommendation to all is do not burn bridges!!!

In addition, with consolidations and with new technologies, often gaps are seen which can be new opportunities.  Several startup corporations and expansions of smaller companies has occurred.   New sponsors such as Pairwise Plants and Calyxt as well as returning sponsors such as Benson Hill, CTC and Cibus have created new opportunities for Society members.  David Songstad (former president and constant supporter for the Development Committee and Society as a whole) and Deepika Chauhan (Senior Program Chair – Plant and 2019 Young Scientist Award Winner) are but two of our members who have joined these exciting startup companies.

These changes have not only been important for career, comradery and development aspect, but for the society it has created new challenges and new opportunities.  When such consolidation occurred in the pharmaceutical industry, the society ran into difficulty with continued involvement and contribution as fewer companies were available and willing to send both people and funds to the meetings.  In the plant section, members have been trying to learn from this prior experience to not only maintain the active participation and contribution from the remaining companies but to also reach out to and continue to engage our members that have moved to these startup companies.  While often not able to make initial contributions or even sometimes send members to the meeting, continual engagement has led to successful results.  Nevertheless, we need to be constantly diligent.  While the number of “big players” is smaller, the importance of and impact of our society members has never been bigger.  To all members from the companies of thousands of employees to tens of employees, In vitro biology and its contribution to society and sustainability is critical.

Submitted by Allan Wenck, Ph.D., J.D.
Director of Trait Validation at BASF
SIVB President-Elect