Zachariah Spurrier
Zach Sparrier
Year: 2019
Faculty Advisor: Technology Transfer
Mentor: Kelli Monce

From Laboratory to Market: A New Disease Resistance Trait and Its Path to the Market

As the Boyce Thompson Institute develops new plant science technology to improve people’s lives, agriculture, and the environment, its Technology Transfer Office is responsible for bringing this technology to the public. Recently the Martin Lab discovered a new resistance gene in tomatoes that confers resistance to an emerging strain of bacterial speck disease as well as a method to transform tomatoes to have this resistance. This project studies the future of that technology, the commercial market for tomatoes (including traditional and genetically engineered varieties), and relative food industry leaders to present recommendations on the commercialization of this new disease resistant tomato technology.
First, the patentability of the invention was decided by referring to prior art and US Code in addition to consultation with outside legal counselors. The novel and non-obvious technology was considered patentable and a provisional application was filed. Secondly, using market research databases and economic outlook reports from the USDA, the vegetable market – specifically tomato – were considered to determine if there was enough stability and flexibility for another tomato variety and/or if the global demand would allow for a disease resistant tomato. While fresh tomatoes were experiencing regular market fluctuations, processed tomato production (especially for tomato ketchup) was increasing. Because of the durability of the tomato market, it was considered a worthy economic pursuit.
Considering all of this, it is recommended that BTI work to patent protect this invention, market the technology, and engage food industry leaders in search of sponsored research agreements or licensing agreements so that commercial entities may help take this technology to farmers and consumers across the United States.


My Experience

Being at the intersection of plant science discovery, legal protection of invention, business development, and start-up creation made for a life-changing summer. As the first Technology Transfer Intern at BTI, I was unsure exactly what to expect, but very quickly I was swimming in license agreements, patent applications, market reports, and business plans! Working in the TTO taught me the value of interdisciplinary education in biotechnology, in addition to showing me how discoveries in the lab can directly impact the public to improve agriculture, health, and the environment.
I started the summer without much knowledge of the process of Technology Transfer, but now I feel comfortable in applying what I’ve learned to look for new technologies, consider commercial opportunities, and bring great innovation to the world.