What’s Enogen corn?

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“Enogen corn” is a special type of corn developed by Syngenta for ethanol production. It contains a transgene from a bacteria that produces alpha amylase, an enzyme that breaks down corn starch into sugar. Presently alpha amylase enzyme is added to corn in a liquid form during the ethanol production process. Corn hybrids with the Enogen trait technology (i.e. Enogen corn) express alpha amylase enzyme directly in the corn kernel, eliminating the need for liquid alpha amylase in dry grind ethanol production. Various trade publications indicate that only 10-20% of an ethanol plant’s total corn supply would need to be Enogen grain to produce the alpha amylase required for breaking down corn starch to sugar.

According to Syngenta, use of the Enogen grain saves the cost of adding liquid enzymes, and  facilitates the processing of higher dry solids levels, increasing yield and throughput (http://www.syngenta.com/country/us/en/agriculture/seeds/corn/enogen/about/pages/enogen-trait-technology.aspx). In addition Syngenta reports that use of Enogen grain results in measurable reductions in water, electricity and natural gas usage on a per gallon basis.

Enogen corn has been receiving attention locally because Syngenta recently announced it has signed a commercial agreement with Three Rivers Energy, LLC that operates the ethanol plant in Coshocton, Ohio, to use grain containing Enogen trait technology following the 2014 corn harvest. Syngenta has similar agreement with ethanol plants in other states. Farmers who grow Enogen under contract may receive premiums of about 40 cents per bushel over other corn. A local farm publication indicates that about 12,000 acres will be under contract in Ohio for the first year.

Unlike other transgenic corns introduced for insect and herbicide tolerance, Enogen corn was specifically developed for industrial purposes – ethanol production. A number of organizations ranging from the North American Millers Assoc. to the Union of Concerned Scientists opposed USDA’s 2011 approval of Enogen hybrids. These organizations warned that mixing (comingling) of Enogen  corn with corn used for food could have significant adverse impacts on food product quality and performance, e.g. crumbling corn chips (resulting from starch breakdown caused by alpha amylase activity in Enogen grain).

Syngenta has established a stewardship program to prevent contamination of commodity grain by Enogen grain. Management practices that farmers under contract would be required to follow include planting buffers of non-Enogen corn around fields planted to Enogen corn, storing the Enogen grain in separate bins, and cleaning planters and combines between uses.

Syngenta indicates that the agronomic performance of hybrids containing Enogen trait technology is similar to conventional (non-Enogen hybrids) and that Enogen hybrids with insect and herbicide tolerance traits are available. I’m not aware of any university/Extension tests that have evaluated the performance of hybrids with and without the Enogen trait.

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