NRGene teams with Bridgestone to develop resilient rubber-producing plants
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NRGene teams with Bridgestone to develop resilient rubber-producing plants

Gene-mapping startup and tire firm will collaborate to sequence and assemble genomes of guayule, an undomesticated American shrub

The guayule plant (CC BY 2.0, Jack Dykinga for the US Department of Agriculture, Flickr)
The guayule plant (CC BY 2.0, Jack Dykinga for the US Department of Agriculture, Flickr)

Israel’s gene mapping startup NRGene has teamed up with Bridgestone Americas Inc., a unit of the world’s largest tire and rubber company, to develop a more resilient rubber-producing plant.

The two companies will be working together to sequence and assemble multiple genomes of guayule, a rubber-producing undomesticated plant that is indigenous to the hot, dry environments of the southwestern United States and Mexico. The idea is to use genetic analytics to help breed better and stronger varieties of the plant so that the rubber it produces can be used by Bridgestone as an additional source of rubber, generated in the US.

The guayule plant is an evergreen shrub than can grow in totally different  environments from those of the para rubber tree, the main source of natural rubber. Para rubber trees are native to South American tropical areas and are found in Europe and the Far East as well. The rubber produced by the guayule plant is similar to that of the para rubber trees, and it is thus expected to become a new source of natural rubber, Brigdgestone says on its website.

As part of the collaboration, NRGene, which is the only company in the world that has managed to map the genome for bread, pasta and wild emmer wheat, has already, for the first time ever, sequenced and completely assembled two guayule genomes.

In addition, “a physical and genetic map are being developed that will provide a high level of accuracy and efficiency for breeding improvement,” the two companies said in a joint statement on Monday.

A closeup of a rubber tire (UltraONEs; iStock by Getty Images)

“We are looking forward to utilizing NRGene’s capabilities and experience in agricultural genome analytics to move our guayule breeding program to a new level that will ultimately benefit our customers and society,” said Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer, Bridgestone Americas, in the statement.

NRGene’s software will develop comprehensive genome assemblies of multiple varieties of guayule to help discover the genetic variations in the species and to identify those species with the more resilient traits. This will help breed better plants — by protecting them from stresses and diseases — and increase the overall rubber yield.

The effort is part of Bridgestone’s push to develop a sustainable guayule natural rubber industry in North America for the production of tires. The firm already has a team of scientists working to improve productivity of the crop though breeding and genetics, agronomy, and working with growers.

“Rubber is critical to every aspect of our lives, from tires to medical devices,” said Gil Ronen, the CEO of NRGene. “Sustainable use of our natural resources is always a key concern, so this represents a major step forward. With more insights into guayule, Bridgestone will be able to increase rubber yields while reducing the resource requirements.”

Nashville, Tennessee-based Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM) is the US subsidiary of Japan’s Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire and rubber company.

A Bridgestone truck at a warehouse in Denmark (ricochet64; iStock by Getty Images)

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 breakdown the genetic makeup of humans, plants, and animals, with the aim of mapping complex genomes quickly and accurately to help breeding and research programs.

NRGene’s software is used by some of the leading seed companies in the world as well as academic researchers globally.

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