Israel’s NRGene on quest to decipher genetic makeup of cannabis

Startup teams up with Switzerland’s Pure Cannabis Research, a breeder of weed, to create more resilient plants that are better tailored to customers’ needs

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

Illustrative: Cannabis leaves (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Cannabis leaves (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

NRGene, an Israeli startup that uses algorithms to map out the genetic makeup of plants, said it will partner with a Swiss cannabis breeding company to decipher the genetic profile of weed in a bid to create more resilient plants that are better tailored to the needs of users.

NRGene and Switzerland’s Pure Cannabis Research AG, which focuses on developing new varieties of cannabis, said they have reached a non-exclusive partnership that will allow “more rapid development of cannabis varieties than the current industry standard.”

The varieties developed will be tailored to customers’ needs, “including healthier, hardier plants” that are optimal for production, the statement said.

The research will study the metabolite profiles of cannabis, which are key to the ability to target specific therapeutic uses, such as pain relief and sleep support, as well as providing flavor profiles that can be used when manufacturing energy drinks and tobacco-alternative products.

A worker tends to cannabis plants at the Tikun Olam growing facility. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
A worker tends to cannabis plants at the Tikun Olam growing facility. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Pure Cannabis Research provides “safe, non-addictive, CBD-based products for tobacco alternatives, beverages, cosmetics, and other uses for the Swiss and European markets,” said Stevens Senn, CEO of Pure Holding Group, the parent company of Pure Cannabis.

“NRGene has refined the process for identifying key genetic traits across virtually any species of plants, so we are partnering with them in order to support our breeding program and develop plants with any trait that is biologically possible to best serve the international and national markets with new varieties,” he said.

NRG’s technology has already been used to successfully to assemble the first-ever complete wheat genome, and also the genomes of the potato, strawberry, barley, rye, and oat, which all have larger and sometimes more complex genomes than that of humans.

Pure Cannabis Research will use NRGene’s technology for the assembly of multiple cannabis genomes, the statement said, and to create the world’s first cannabis pangenome — the entire gene set of all strains of a species.

“This pangenome project will create a collection of sequences that will provide unique and essential insights into the natural genetic diversity of cannabis,” the statement said, and identify markers for key traits in the plant.

“The recognition of the importance of cannabis in specific and hemp in general is growing globally, whether for a plethora of medical problem or as a valuable, renewable resource with many eco-friendly uses,” Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene said in the statement. “Cannabis is being increasingly recognized as the most viable solution for many health problems.”

Founded by Ronen and Guy Kol in 2010, NRGene is a genomic company that enlisted code crackers from the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite 8200 unit to write algorithms and software to break down the genetic makeup of humans, plants, and animals, with the aim of mapping complex genomes quickly and accurately to help breeding and research programs.

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