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Designing Strawberry Varieties for Japanese Farms

Strawberries

(pasja1000, Pixabay)

14 January 2019. An agricultural genomics company in Israel and auto maker Toyota began a joint project to design new varieties of strawberries to grow on Japanese farms. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the agreement between NRGene in Ness Ziona, Israel and and Toyota in Aichi, Japan were not disclosed.

While Toyota’s main business is cars and trucks, the company takes part in scientific initiatives to improve the environment and boost the local economy in Japan. As part of this program, Toyota developed a genomic sequencing technology it calls Genotyping by Random Amplicon Sequencing-Direct, or GRAS-Di, mainly for agricultural applications. GRAS-Di is a high-throughput sequencing engine that requires little sample preparation or other specialized equipment.

In a test of the technology with a variety of rice published in January 2018, Toyota researchers identified more than 10,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms or genomic variations distributed throughout the rice genome, missing only a few of these variations. Toyota licensed GRAS-Di technology to several Japanese and European partners.

NRGene is a genomics analysis company serving the agricultural biotechnology industry.The company uses big data analytics and artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze genomes of plants and animals to boost the speed and quality of breeding, as well as design new crop varieties to meet environmental and economic challenges. One of NRGene’s services is de novo genome assembly, which puts together short DNA sequences to resemble an organism’s original chromosomes. The company says it used this toolkit to assemble more than 400 genomes of various species, including wheat and strawberries.

In the new initiative, Toyota and NRGene will design new varieties of strawberries that can thrive in weather and soil conditions found in Japan. With Japan’s population aging, particularly its farm population, the country faces threats of food sustainability and self-sufficiency. Thus varieties of strawberries that can be grown easily in Japan are highly sought after.

Toyota is providing its initial genomic analysis of strawberries to NRGene for assembly of new varieties more suitable for Japan. Hiroyuki Enoki, Toyota’s group manager for GRAS-Di, is presenting findings from its analysis of strawberries today at the International Plant and Animal Genome conference in San Diego. The genome assembly task is not expected to be simple. The strawberry genome is highly complex, making 8 copies of each gene; by comparison, humans make 2 copies.

“As global demand for food continues to rise,” says NRGene founder and president Gil Ronen in a company statement, “we enthusiastically support any project that improves food security and quality, and reduces the environmental footprint of crop production.” Ronen adds, “This approach 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.”

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