Israeli software is being used by agricultural giant Monsanto and others to identify the plant traits that produce higher-yielding crops, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
NRGene, an Israeli firm that developed the genomic big-data technology, is working with Monsanto and Syngenta, a Swiss seeds and pesticides group, to identify traits that can lead to more sustainable food production with less dependence on pesticides and more efficient water usage. It is also working Illumina, a genetics firm, to improve the breeding of cattle.
NRGene’s cloud-based platform was designed by computer scientists who served in Israeli military intelligence units and “never saw a DNA database in their life,” according CEO Gil Ronen.
The World Food Programme estimates that 795 million people do not have access to sufficient nutrition, a problem complicated by environmental degradation, climate change, and growing populations.
“Everyone knows that in 2050 every piece of land will have to produce twice as much, so breeding new varieties is a crucial part of that effort,” Ronen said. “If we speed up this process, we prevent hunger in the long term.”
Jesse Poland, assistant professor at the Kansas State University’s department of plant pathology, explained that NRGene’s technology allows botanists to map complicated wheat genomes. This makes it easier and less expensive to test for better quality grains. “NRGene is the critical piece for putting all the data together,” he said.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed maker, announced on Thursday a multiyear licensing agreement with NRGene, whose platform will be used to analyze more than a billion data points.
“If you look at every crop, there’s a ton of variation. We’re only beginning to understand and leverage genetic diversity,” said Tom Osborn, Monsanto’s molecular breeding technology director. “It’s absolutely necessary for us to have these tools to meet the needs of growing populations.”
Ryan Rapp, Illumina’s associate director of agrigenomics, said that NRGene’s software will help his company identify what species of cattle tolerates heat better and is more resistant to pests.
The market for software that organizes, analyzes, and recalls biological data is estimated to reach $12.8 billion in 2020, according to Allied Market Research.
Later this year, NRGene is planning to raise funds to support the development of its software to analyze the human genome. It hopes to use the technology to isolate biomarkers associated with diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which could pave the way to prevention and early detection.
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