Genetically Modified Plants To Resist Intense Drought

By David Allouche, NoCamels

Photo by Gates Foundation

Israeli agro-biotechnology company, Rosetta Green, has developed a new technology to develop plants that are better able to withstand prolonged periods of severe drought. The company aims to develop new plant varieties resistant to harsh climatic condition, maintaining an increased yield.

The company, based in Rehovot, Israel, experimented on tobacco plants that were irrigated with seawater instead of freshwater. The genetically modified plants created by the company were able to grow under seawater irrigation, as opposed to the control group of plants.

According to the company’s CEO, Amir Avniel, “the frequent droughts afflicting the world in recent years and the motivation to expand to arid lands containing brackish water require the development of plant varieties resistant to drought and irrigation with salt water.”

Rosetta Green is using a technology that can identify MicroRNAs, which are short RNA molecules that play an important role in the regulation of key genetic traits in major crops. The MicroRNAs identified by the company were used to develop prototype plants with significantly improved drought tolerance. The genetic modification was performed by plant tissue culture methods that result in genetic transformation, and this “improved trait” survives from one generation to another, according to Avniel.

Plants that were modified by this micro-RNA gene and control plants that did not undergo such modification were irrigated with salt water with triple the salinity level of seawater. Subsequently, both plant groups were put back on a regular irrigation conditions. Researchers found that only the genetically modified plants were able to recover from the severe stress and continued to grow, while control plants completely wilted.

The company’s CTO, Rudy Maor, told NoCamels that “the extreme conditions under which the experiment was conducted reinforce the importance of these genes and their advantage over other techniques used to improve plants.” Maor added that “agricultural areas constitute only about 10 percent of global land area and the development of advanced technologies that may render plants capable of growth in additional areas, such as deserts, is critical for food supply to the ever growing world population.”

CEO Avniel added: “This experiment is another step in the company’s progress towards production of improved plants that will provide farmers with excellent yield even in drought conditions, and allow the growth of crops in wide areas that are currently unsuitable due to soil salinity and weather conditions.”

According to Maor, part of the de-regulation process ensures that the modified crops will not lose on quality. As to the pricing of these crops, the company explains that their business model relies on licensing their technology to large seed companies who will be responsible for commercialization. Therefore, the pricing and marketing of the new product will be done by the seed companies.

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