You might call it the forgotten protein.

Seven years ago, Syngenta hosted plot tours featuring its new VipCot cotton trait stack for more than 200 growers, retailers and consultants at its Southern Region Technical Center near Leland, Miss.

The insecticidal protein, discovered nine years earlier by a Syngenta scientist, seemed to offer a broader spectrum of control for such pests as bollworms, fall armyworms and other lepidopteran insects than other proteins.

At the time, Syngenta scientists were working with plant breeders for Delta and Pine Land Co. to insert the VipCot trait stack — Vip is short for vegetative insecticidal protein — into Deltapine’s elite germplasm. Before that could happen, Delta and Pine Land was purchased by Monsanto, which already had its own brand of insecticidal traits.

Fast forward to 2010 and it looks like the Vip3A protein, the unique mode of action for insect control in VipCot, may finally be coming into its own. Pending final regulatory approvals, growers will see the Vip3A protein, the foundation of the Agrisure Viptera trait in corn, in plot trials this summer and in commercially available hybrids in 2011.

“It has been an interesting journey for VipCot,” says Todd Martin, head of the independent seed business for Syngenta. Martin worked for the company in Memphis, Tenn., before moving to the Syngenta Seeds main office in Minnetonka, Minn., this past winter.

“The story of the Vip3A protein actually began in 1994 when Greg Warren, a Syngenta scientist working in North Carolina, discovered it,” he says. “Some milk had soured in his refrigerator and, rather than just throw it out, Greg decided to test it. Material in the milk proved to be active on corn earworm and other caterpillar pests.”

After Monsanto introduced its Bollgard cotton trait, which involved the insertion of the Cry 1A Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt protein into the cotton plant, most companies stepped up their development of insecticidal proteins.

Rather than build or buy its own cottonseed company, Syngenta decided to work through existing entities which had already carved out a share of the cottonseed market. Although VipCot has experienced some hurdles, Syngenta’s efforts to develop a new, broader spectrum Vip class of proteins for cotton continued and now appear to be on the verge of paying off.

The unique Vip3A protein acts differently than the Cry proteins that have been inserted in other cotton germplasm. The Vip proteins bind to different receptors on the insect mid-gut than the Cry proteins. The disruption causes the pest to stop feeding and die.

“The combination of the Vip3A and Cry genes will result in an incredible product that provides a broader spectrum of control and helps make all of the Bt products more durable,” says Martin. “It will help all of the Cry products.”

Syngenta has entered into agreements with Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences to insert the Vip3A protein in Monsanto’s Bollgard III cotton and Dow’s new generation of WideStrike Bt cotton. Bollgard III could be launched as early as 2013 and Dow’s new advanced WideStrike technology is slated for introduction in 2012.

“We believe this is a real confirmation of the work of Syngenta’s scientists — to see these other companies using Vip3A in their next generations of Bt cotton products,” said Martin.

In Syngenta research trials, the Vip3A trait has demonstrated efficacy on corn earworm (also known as the bollworm in cotton), Western bean cutworm, black cutworm, fall armyworm, common stalk borer, and sugarcane borer. Competitor Cry traits only list suppression of corn earworm.

“The corn earworm typically appears relatively late in the season in corn when it’s difficult for growers to spray and achieve effective control of the pest,” says Martin. “That’s why the Agrisure Viptera trait could be very important for growers in the South. We’re seeing some beautiful ears of Agrisure Viptera corn.”