Chromatin the Hub of Innovation

Sorghum sprouts being test agains sugar aphids.


Sustainability is a goal many farmers are trying to achieve, and many seed companies are trying to help. Sorghum is a dependable crop that requires fewer nutrients and less water than other crops. The population is growing and demands more food and resources with less land to produce it.

Chromatin, a sorghum seed company, has made breakthroughs in technology for the sorghum industry. With new technology, they are able to produce a sorghum product that is different than normal seed companies can provide.

Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO, has led the development of new state-of-the-art technology that has pushed sorghum breeding programs to a new level. This new innovation, called Many Chromosome Technology, allows more than one chromosome to be moved at a time. This technology allows scientists to move the more desirable genes in plants and saves plant breeders’ time and money.

In 2006, Chromatin went from the research stage to the commercial stage, trying to sell the technology it created. When the company couldn’t sell the technology to plant breeders, Chromatin decided they would partner with sorghum companies and create a new sorghum product using its technology.

Different varieties of sorghum can grow to be over 6 feet tall.

“They needed a vehicle to sell the technology so they could sell technology through seed, not just the rights to use it,” said David Thomas, senior manager-support operations for Chromatin and owner of Sorghum Partners.

Preuss focused on sorghum because of its diversity, adaptation, low water and nutrient requirements, and ability to be customized through breeding and technology to meet a variety of needs. Chromatin’s focus is on using its technology to introduce sustainable, healthy agricultural practices while enhancing commercial value and quality of life.

Preuss went to the Sorghum Partners in New Deal, Texas, and asked to buy the company. After careful consideration, David Thomas and his partner at Sorghum Partners decided to sell the company to Chromatin.  Chromatin still sells its seed under Sorghum Partners brand.

When Chromatin bought Sorghum Partners six years ago, they slowly started moving operations from Chicago, Illinois, to New Deal, and Lubbock, Texas. Chromatin decided they needed to move their molecular team, the scientists who use the technology to breed the sorghum, to Lubbock.

“There was a time when we stood in the Lee Building, which is just a big tin shed, and thought we could build a molecular lab here,” said Scott Staggenborg, director, product portfolio and technology advancement for Chromatin.

Young sorghum gets tested to see if they are stainable in certain conditions.

Chromatin decided they did not have the money to do it. Soon after, Texas Tech announced they were building the Innovative Hub, which Chromatin now uses as a research lab. Chromatin gets the advantage of using state-of-the-art technology, without building it.

“It’s a great idea and a great relationship for our company and us,” Staggenborg said.

Chromatin was the first company to start research in Tech’s Innovative Hub. Because they were able to use the Innovative Hub, they had access to the newest technology for their research needs. The lab was fully equipped the day Chromatin moved in, which allowed them to start research from day one.

It was very nice; we have a good relationship with Texas Tech.
Song Luo

“It was very nice; we have a good relationship with Texas Tech,” said Song Luo, Chromatin researcher.

Texas Tech also helps to hire student-help for Chromatin whenever needed. This gives Chromatin a chance to be even more involved at Texas Tech.

Chromatin also rents land from farmers to plant sorghum seed and conduct research in the field. They have several 90-acre plots in Idalou and New Deal. Renting land allows plant breeders with sorghum to actually grow the plants and study them in the field. Chromatin has greenhouses in Lubbock, where they can grow sorghum in a controlled environment instead of in the field.

The ability to grow sorghum on land that other crops couldn’t is unique to the crop. Its hardiness makes it possible to thrive where other crops fail. Sorghum is a sustainable crop that can grow well in many places.

“Sorghum can grow on 80 percent of the world’s land,” Thomas said.

It takes a third less water to grow sorghum than other crops, making it an attractive crop for many dry land farmers who don’t have the water to put on their crops.

Sorghum in different stages being tested against sugarcane aphids.

Chromatin is strictly a sorghum seed company, and is responsible for producing many different sorghum types, includes grain sorghum, forage sorghum, Sudan grass, and food grade sorghum. They also do several crossbred sorghum plants trying to get the most desirable and sustainable traits they can. For example, Chromatin selectively breeds for certain areas that receive little rainfall.
“I have seen sorghum that is 16 feet tall, and I’ve seen sorghum that comes to my knee,” said Kerry Mayfield, forage, biomass and Sudan Breeder with Chromatin. With Texas Tech’s help Chromatin is able to produce more verities of sorghum that can be sold on a global scale.

“We are becoming a large sorghum company,” Thomas said.

Chromatin also gives Texas Tech students a chance to be apart of the research through student assistant jobs. Students are hired through the University but do research for Chromatin. This also gives students a way to learn more about sustainable crops such as sorghum.

Creating a sustainable crop for farmers to be able to farm on many different kinds of land is what Chromatin is trying to accomplish. The sorghum is bred for the certain area’s weaknesses and also strengths.

“We want to bring sophisticated technology into sorghum just as cotton, corn, and other crops have been doing for years,” Thomas said.

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