NRGene unravels crop genomes to produce accurate, cost-effective DNA sequence
When five complex corn genomes were unlocked in 2014—each in less than a week—the advances carried major implications for agriculture research. NRGene, a genomic analysis company, condensed the time needed for accurate mapping from years or months to a matter of days.
NRGene uses two data platforms in tandem: DeNovoMagic, which builds reference genomes from scratch, and GenoMagic, which compares multiple genomes and allows customers to extract value from the comparison. DeNovoMagic and GenoMagic run unique algorithms that analyze genomic data with unprecedented speed resulting in a highly accurate and cost-effective DNA sequence.
After a genome is mapped, breeding companies can take several of the genomes representing the variability in the germplasm and compare them when choosing breeding steps. Researchers have opportunities to see what new genes are present—and can be deleted or replicated. Overall, as breeders and researchers understand the genomics of a crop, they compensate for different climates and pests by identifying underlying traits such as yield and stress tolerance.
“A farmer knows he needs to fit seed genetics with his particular environment. Seed companies sell a wide range of products, and a farmer has to choose carefully,” says Guy Kol, NRGene founder and vice president of research and development. The importance of what NRGene brings to the table is simplified research—less expensive and less error-prone—that ties directly to a grower’s seed choices.
“Grain prices have gone down, causing farmers to question every dollar they spend. Reducing the research and development price through our technology is one more step in reducing overall seed prices,” Kol adds.
Four major crops feed the world: corn, rice, soybeans and wheat. Corn and wheat have highly complex genomes, with corn being the most complicated. There is more than $1 billion invested in corn research in the U.S. each year, Kol says.
NRGene is currently collaborating with the Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) to build the assemblies of 20 tropical, subtropical and highland corn genomes as part of CIMMYT’s Seeds of Discovery project, a seven-year, $70 million effort aimed at sharing the genetic profiles of corn and wheat.
“Technology is the linchpin to address the pressing need to grow the world’s food supply,” notes Gil Ronen, NRGene founder and CEO. “The speed at which NRGene’s big data genomic analysis delivers means CIMMYT will be able to quickly apply the information to its practical research.”
Wheat’s DNA blueprint remains unfinished as a result of its intricate genome nature and lack of funding, but creating and comparing multiple reference genomes at a reasonable price will bring wheat research into a new dimension. The bread wheat genome is massive, containing approximately five times as much DNA as the human genome. However, 80% of the wheat genome is comprised of repetitive sequences. NRGene is currently tackling the genome of wild emmer wheat, which serves as the parent for most cultivated varieties.
“We’re also working on the genome of tetraploid wheat used in pasta,” Kol adds. “We want to show the world we can process that wheat gene very quickly and in a high-quality manner.”
NRGene is based in Israel but is opening an office in California to further develop breeding tools.