Gramineae and Cereals


Gramineae is one of the largest families of monocot plants. Mostly herbaceous grass-like plants, this family includes several important staple crops (cereals) such as wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, barley, oats, and millet. It also encompasses plants such as bamboos, palms, and foraging grasses (e.g. turfgrass, king grass (Pennisetum purpureum), Brachiaria).

Remember that,

patents addressing the Gramineae family embrace cereals,
but patents directed to cereals do not embrace all Gramineae.

Gramineae transformation. The United States and Australian patents granted to the University of Toledo and the United States patent granted to Goldman and Graves belong to the same patent family. They all claim a method for transforming seedlings of a Gramineae with a vir+ Agrobacterium. Furthermore, transformed pollen grains are obtained from a transformed seedling. Claims of both United States patents limit the inoculation of the bacterium to a particular area in the seedling.

Remarkably, the United States patent granted to Goldman and Graves also contains broad claims to the transformation of Gramineae with Agrobacterium. This particular claim encompasses any Gramineae, constituting one of the broadest claims recently issued in the area of plant transformation technologies. This could mean that any United States patent claiming Agrobacterium transformation of any tissue of a Gramineae may be dominated by this patent. The grant of this patent has wreaked havoc in the scientific community and multiple parties with interest in Agrobacterium- mediated transformation of Gramineae.

In 1998 the same inventors (Goldman and Graves)  filed a related United States patent application US 2002/0002711 A1 directed to transformation of Gramineae and corn in particular. One of the independent claims recites: “A transformed Gramineae“. This could be the broadest claim one could think of, aiming to cover genetic transformation with any technique of an entire botanical family of enormous economic interest. If the above United States patent granted to Goldman and Graves caused outrage in the scientific community, the eventual granting of a claim as broad as the one filed in the present patent application could have had a disturbing impact on Gramineae transformation, for already existing transformants as well as for future transgenic Gramineae. Luckily, according to the USPTO, the patent application has been abandoned.

Cereal transformationPlant Genetic Systems (now part of Bayer Crop Science) has a granted United States patent and a European application disclosing the transformation of any cereal with Agrobacterium. The claims require the wounding of a cereal tissue and the enzymatic disruption of a tissue cell wall before transformation. The European application additionally recites different transformation methods besides Agrobacterium. It remains to be seen what claim scope will be granted in Europe.