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Evogene, DuPont Pioneer Extend Biotech Soybean Partnership

Soybean field

(Kevin Dooley/Flickr)

Evogene Ltd, a biotechnology company in Rehovot, Israel is extending its collaboration with the Pioneer subsidiary of the U.S. chemical company DuPont to develop soybean varieties resistant to Asian soybean rust, a damaging fungus to soybean plants. The agreement adds one year to the partnership between the two companies, but financial aspects of the deal were not disclosed.

Soybeans are a major cash cash in the U.S. and around the world, providing protein for humans and animals, as well as a feedstock for renewable biodiesel fuel. Brazil was the largest soybean producer in 2012 with 3.1 billion bushels, closely followed by the U.S. with 3.0 billion bushels. Brazil and the U.S. were also the largest soybean exporters in 2012, with 1.4 and 1.3 billion bushels respectively.

Asian soybean rust results in premature defoliation of soybean plants, along with fewer filled pods per plant, and fewer seeds per pod. The disease is caused by a fungus (Phakopsora  pachyrhizi) spread by wind-born spores. The fungus needs live green plant tissue to survive, making it a dangerous parasite. Asian soybean rust was first confirmed in the continental U.S. in 2004, in Louisiana, and has since spread to eight southern states, causing losses estimated at $1.5 billion a year.

In the current collaboration, Evogene and Pioneer are developing a genomic database on soybean rust resistance, generated by Evogene’s computational technology for plant gene discovery. That system, called Athlete, combines algorithms and data mining to identify genes relevant to specified plant traits. Pioneer then evaluates and validates the genes in its own research lines as potential leads for commercialization.

In the extension with DuPont Pioneer, Evogene will apply another computational tool that refines gene discovery to improve the odds of developing a successful biotech seed product. In a company statement, Evogene says that system, known as Gene2Product, optimizes the combination of multiple genes to improve the efficacy of the identified traits and improve the probability of success of new seeds.

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