Strawberry genome jointly decoded by Israel’s NRGene, Japan’s Toyota

Aim of project is to boost development of local Japanese varieties and reduce imports

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

An illustrative image of fresh strawberries (MariuszBlach; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of fresh strawberries (MariuszBlach; iStock by Getty Images)

NRGene, an Israeli startup that uses algorithms to map out the genetic makeup of plants, and Japanese carmaker Toyota said they have jointly decoded the genome of a leading commercial type of strawberry. The achievement is a “key milestone” in a bid to promote high-quality, locally produced fruit for the Japanese market, the companies said in a statement.

In addition to its core car-making business, Toyota has been working since 1999 on a range of environmentally friendly business initiatives. These include developing techniques to improve the quality of crops. The Japanese firm has identified disease-resistant sugar cane genes and undertaken the analysis of the strawberry genome in a bid to create more resilient plants, as demand for food grows globally and the farming population is aging.

The combination of NRGene’s assembly of the strawberry genome and Toyota’s DNA analysis technology will boost the development of natural strawberry varieties that are suited to the Japanese market, the statement said.

The strawberry genome is among the most complex ever assembled, the two companies said in a statement, as it encompasses eight copies of every gene. By comparison, humans have just two copies. “Assembling the strawberry genome could increase natural breeding efficiency and lead to the development of more productive varieties,” the statement said.

NRGene’s genomic big-data artificial intelligence software is being used to develop comprehensive genome assemblies of complicated genomes, including wheat, potato, cannabis and shrimp.

Developing strawberries more suited for local growth “has the potential to be an economical and sustainable alternative to importing strawberries, a key horticultural product with one of the largest markets in Japan,” said Gil Ronen, president & founder of NRGene, in the statement.

Japan is said to have the one of the highest consumption rates of raw strawberries in the world. Therefore, competition to produce new strawberry varieties is intense, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

“We were most satisfied by the ability of NRGene’s genome assembly to support our genomics-based, molecular breeding of strawberries,” said Toyota group manager Hiroyuki Enoki. “We look forward to furthering our collaboration with NRGene to meet this and other plant breeding goals.”

Separately, NRGene said on January 10 it will expand its cooperation with Syngenta, a Swiss-based global producer of seeds and agrochemicals that is using NRGene’s software to identify and compare the full genetic makeup of large populations of crops and select the best candidates for efficient breeding.

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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