Agricultural technology company Arcadia Biosciences in Davis, California will develop heat-tolerant varieties of wheat under a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The deal also involves the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which will share in the rights to the discoveries.
Arcadia Biosciences says some 50 million acres of wheat are under cultivation worldwide, making it the world’s second largest food crop. Demand for wheat in developing countries is projected to increase 60 percent by 2050 to meet demands of the growing global population.
Global wheat productivity, however, is decreasing, mostly as a result of increasing average temperatures, with wheat yields down an estimated five percent in major wheat-producing countries such as the U.S., Australia, and Russia. Current climate change models, says the company, suggest that wheat yields could decline by as much as 40 percent by 2050 in South Asia, where wheat is a primary food source.
Arcadia says it plans to develop the new wheat varieties using a combination of classical breeding and modern molecular biology tools, such as high-throughput screening and genetic engineering. Among the genetic engineering techniques used by the company are knockdowns of specific genes that reduce their functionality, often resulting in the desired trait.
In the licensing deal, CIMMYT will receive non-exclusive rights in developing countries to Arcadia’s heat-tolerance technology developed under this agreement. Arcadia will keep the exclusive commercial rights in the developed world.
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