Israel’s NRGene announces accords with Monsanto, Illumina

Licensing and collaboration agreements follow announcement last week of collaboration deal with Syngenta

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

A chili pepper field in India where NRGene has been developing breeds of chili peppers that farmers can plant in drip irrigation-watered fields. NRGene mapped the chili pepper genome last year (Courtesy)
A chili pepper field in India where NRGene has been developing breeds of chili peppers that farmers can plant in drip irrigation-watered fields. NRGene mapped the chili pepper genome last year (Courtesy)

NRGene, an Israeli startup that has mapped the genome for bread, pasta and wild emmer wheat, has entered into agreements for its cloud-based software for genomic analysis with Monsanto Company, one of the largest agricultural companies in the world and Illumina, a developer of technology for genomic research.

Monsanto, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and NRGene said Thursday that they have reached a non-exclusive, multi-year global licensing agreement for NRGene’s genome-analysis technology. The accord “will enhance Monsanto’s ability to predict, compare and select the best genetic makeup from its vast data sets of genetic, genomic and trait information,” the companies said in a statement.

Financial details of the accords were not disclosed.

NRGene’s GenoMAGIC software analyzes unlimited volumes of genomic data, enabling scientists and breeders to relate certain genomic sequences with beneficial traits, making genomic selection and trait mapping much more productive. The software also enables breeders to process data more quickly, making breeding both faster and more cost effective. GenoMAGIC is being licensed non-exclusively to organizations involved in genetic research and breeding. The software was developed by a mix of algorithm designers, software engineers, plant breeders and plant geneticists.

NRGene’s GenoMAGIC software will help Monsanto, which invests almost half of its annual R&D on plant breeding, increase its ability to select genomes, discover plant traits and enhance crop production and quality, the companies said. The joint aim, they said, is to develop ways to help farmers to grow better harvests and make their crops more resilient.

Monsanto may expand its relationship with NRGene into a longer-term commitment following an in-depth evaluation of the technology, the statement said.

NRGene's CEO Gil Ronen (Courtesy)
NRGene’s CEO Gil Ronen (Courtesy)

“Partnering with companies like Monsanto — combined with our recent achievements, including being the first to map the wheat genome — are significant milestones on our roadmap to become the worldwide leader of genomic big data solutions,” said Gil Ronen, NRGene’s CEO.

Separately, NRGene and Illumina said they would collaborate to develop new molecular breeding tools for cattle. As a first step, the companies also announced the completion of a high-quality genome assembly of Nellore cattle, together with researchers at the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil.

The two companies will work together to sequence the genetic makeup of additional cattle from different breeds, in the hope of developing new commercial tools that can be used for genomic selection and other genomic technologies in cattle, helping to accelerate breeding programs to enhance global food, both meat and milk, production efforts, the companies said in a joint statement.

“We look forward to this next phase of our strategic collaboration with NRGene to accelerate global cattle breeding efforts through additional sequencing studies and, ultimately, the commercialization of improved genomic selection tools,” said Rob Brainin, vice president and general manager, Applied Genomics for Illumina.

Nellore cows are the most dominant zebu beef cattle breed for food production in the tropical regions of the world. The sequencing and assembly of its genome was completed using Illumina next-generation sequence data and NRGene’s cloud-based DeNovoMAGICTM 3.0 software package. As more cattle genomes are generated, additional NRGene software will be used to compare the complete genome sequences of multiple individual samples to capture the broad genomic diversity. This information will be used to design more efficient genotyping tools to support cattle breeding programs, the companies said.

“Using technology from Illumina and NRGene has enabled us to develop an accurate assembly of a heterozygote genome for Nellore cattle in just two months,” said Jose Fernando Garcia, professor, Universidade Estadual Paulista. “We believe this reference genome will help Brazilian cattle breeders to dramatically improve local beef production and, more importantly, will provide insights about Nellore reproduction (fertility) and meat quality that can be used to add value to worldwide production.”

NRGene and Illumina have previously worked together on other agriculture projects to decode some of the most complex genomes including types of bread wheat, and breeds of mango, strawberry and dozens of new maize, soybean, cotton, and canola genomes.

The two deals follow an announcement last week that Syngenta, a global agrochemical and seed company, would use NRGene’s software to faster and more comprehensively evaluate the trait discovery of a variety of crops.

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