- Title: Israeli genome cracking software could help fight global food crisis
- Date: 17th January 2017
- Summary: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF WHEAT FIELD VARIOUS OF WHEAT HARVEST
- Embargoed: 31st January 2017 11:28
- Keywords: Israel NRGene agriculture food crisis Genomic Big Data
- Location: REHOVOT, NES ZIONA, GIVAT BRENNER, ISRAEL/AGOS, NIGERIA/NAIROBI, KENYA/BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
- City: REHOVOT, NES ZIONA, GIVAT BRENNER, ISRAEL/AGOS, NIGERIA/NAIROBI, KENYA/BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
- Country: Israel
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA0055ZGYZIZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: With the world more anxious about its future food sources than any time since the 1960s, international seed companies constantly look for better, quick and cost effective ways to produce more resilient, higher-yielding crops.
NRGene, an Israeli genomic big data company whose innovative cloud-based software was recently chosen by leading agrochemical group Syngenta to accelerate trait discovery and breeding across diverse crops, says its technology is key for achieving that goal.
"Every field of wheat or any other crop should produce double in thirty years in order to meet food demand, ok? And for that you need better performing varieties, so better genetics of every variety. And this is exactly why NRGene comes to the picture, because we can predict the better performing varieties on the computer before we test them in the field. And then we accelerate the development of such new varieties", said NRGene's Co-founder and CEO, Gil Ronen.
The company's software is based on an algorithm that can analyze unlimited volumes of genomic data. Last year, it managed to fully crack the genome of Wild Emmer Wheat - one of the most complex sequences in nature, in one month - a challenge that other scientists had wrestled with for over a decade with no success.
NRGene said its software also cracked the genome of Durum (Pasta) wheat and common bread wheat, as well as multiple additional wheat, maize, soybean, cotton, canola, vegetables and fruits.
Its technology could "revolutionize" the development of new varieties, the company said, by making the breeding process - which is based on genomic selection of crops' preferable traits such as resiliency to certain diseases or climates - much more quick and cost effective.
"Natural diversity is the driving force for breeding. And luckily in crops genomic diversity is huge. And if you have the right tools to use them you can really increase significantly the impact of breeding programs. Our technology enables breeding companies to use genomic diversity in a very efficient and cost effective manner. And we do it by developing algorithm that characterises to high resolution many genomes of their elite varieties and enable them to design better genomic markers for genomic selection," said the company's CTO, Omer Barad.
NRGene's VP of R&D, Guy Kol, further explained how this technology can help fight the expected worldwide food crisis.
"In order to develop new varieties of wheat you need to understand the wheat genome. Now, the wheat is a very complex organism. Actually, we're talking about three different types of wheat: the Emmer Wheat, which is the old one, the ancestor one, the Pasta Wheat, the Durum Wheat, and the Hexaploid Bread Wheat, which is actually something that feeds the world. Now if we take all of them together, the understanding of their genomes is something that could revolutionise the way we develop new varieties for those wheats and to do that we need to understand their genomes better," Kol said.
"Now you can predict what are the changes that you need to do to those plants to get to a specific trait, like yield. And you can do it very directly to a specific geography, to a specific (biological) stress, and then Africa can benefit from that technology the same way as all the rich geographies like Australia, and U.S and Canada can," He added.
Projections of global population growth vary widely with the United Nations last year forecasting numbers rising to 9.6 billion in 2050. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 60 percent more food will be needed to feed a world population of nine billion people.
However, projecting the future population at a time of new agricultural techniques, climate change impacting food production, and efforts underway to cut greenhouse gas emissions is seen by some to be as accurate as crystal ball gazing.
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