Seed World

A Global Breeding Race is on. Genomic Data is Key to Winning

NRGene is making a big impact on the international breeding community with its expansion into Canada and beyond.

Canada’s Dr. Curtis Pozniak faced one of the biggest challenges of his career in 2015 when he worked on the first wheat genome assembly as part of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC). At the time, the technology at hand left a lot to be desired.

“We were using a very different approach where individual countries within the consortium would sequence an individual chromosome and then, collectively complete the whole sequence,” says Dr. Pozniak, the director of the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, which released over 500 commercials crop varieties in Canada over the last 50 years.

It was painstaking — and painfully slow — work.

“Around that time, we started to hear rumblings within the international community of this Israeli company called NRGene, and how they’d been working to assemble genomes of various species to a very high quality and very quickly in around a three to-six-week period.”

It gave Pozniak hope that the team might accomplish its goal much faster than anticipated.

Variety development across the world then took a major leap forward in early 2016 when, at the annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference, the team pulled back the curtain to reveal the highly complex genome for bread wheat.

“With NRGene’s help, we were able to get to the finish line a lot faster than we would have otherwise,” Pozniak says.

It’s a story that’s becoming more familiar to the ears of NRGene founder and CEO Gil Ronen, whose company has expanded into the United States and recently opened a new office and genotyping lab in Canada, in the agriculture research cluster in Saskatchewan.

The move is further evidence of how the Israel-based NRGene impacts the international breeding community.

“We’ve really disrupted the global industry, ever since we helped map the wheat genome back in 2015,” Ronen says.

“The fact that we can bring fast, high-quality results that are also cost effective really has been a game-changer.”

Knowing the Market

Numerous top seed and plant breeding companies in the world are now using NRGene’s solutions to find the differences between genomes and allocate beneficial genes or other genomics challenges.

Nuseed — which has developed traits for customers across Australia, Europe, and North and South America — first collaborated with NRGene in 2019 when Nuseed became part of the International Canola Pan-genome Consortium, meant to advance the rapeseed industry by capturing the crop’s broad genetic diversity. Nuseed contributed its own canola lines to the research and received the full pangenome comparison results.

“As Nuseed started to grow its breeding program in North America, we needed this kind of technology to develop molecular markers to help speed up our targeted selection. That said, I look at this partnership in a much longer-term way,” says Katy Navabi, Nuseed’s North America canola breeding leader based in Canada.

“As we introduce more elite germplasm to our breeding, we have to be very familiar with that germplasm at the sequence level.”

Turning technological capability into business success for both the breeder and NRGene itself is a study in knowing the market and which crops are going to be at the center of the innovation space in the years ahead, says NRGene’s Chief Strategy Officer Rick Calk.

Whether it’s drones in the air, advanced irrigation or genomics, Calk says those in the ag space — especially farmers — have adopted new technologies faster than predicted. To keep up to the change, breeders need fast, convenient access to genomic technologies that will help them deliver new varieties faster than ever before.

“Anyone who’s in business understands the best way to set up a new operation is to have your customers bring you there. The flipside of that is, of course, being located where you have the greatest opportunity to live out your mission,” Calk says.