A Chinese scientist was sentenced Wednesday to more than 10 years in a U.S. federal prison for stealing valuable rice seeds from a Kansas biopharmaceutical firm.
Weiqiang Zhang, a Chinese national who is a permanent legal resident living in Manhattan, Kansas, was convicted last year of conspiracy to steal trade secrets after taking hundreds of rice seeds from his employer, Ventria Bioscience.
Ventria genetically programs rice to artificially produce human proteins. The proteins are extracted from the rice and used in drugs and other medical therapies.
U.S. prosecutors said Zhang stole the seeds and stored them at his home. He passed the seeds to visitors from a Chinese crop research center in 2013.
U.S. Customs agents found the seeds in their luggage as they prepared to return to China.
Prosecutors said Ventria spent millions of dollars and years of research to perfect methods for extracting proteins from the rice.
“It is vital that we protect such intellectual property from theft and exploitation by foreign interests,” U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said. “We all benefit when American companies continue to drive socially valuable advancements in food, medicine and technology.”