Israeli scientists have broken the genetic code of wheat, providing humanity with the keys to alleviate global hunger.
Israeli scientists were successful in fully mapping the genome of Wild Emmer wheat, thus providing vital information that could create a global breakthrough in reducing malnutrition among those whose diet is based on this staple crop.
Wild Emmer, the progenitor of today’s durum and bread wheat varieties, was one of the first crops to be domesticated thousands of years ago in the Middle East.
Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene, spoke of an historical moment. “Mapping the Emmer genome in Israel brings everything full circle. Aaron Aaronson [a Jewish researcher in pre-state Israel] identified the variety in Rosh Pina in 1906 and proved that Emmer wheat was the basis for the development of cultivated wheat.”
Reversing Global Hunger
Dr. Assaf Distelfeld and other scientists at Tel Aviv University have been working on wheat improvement for more than 10 years.
“Mapping Emmer wheat is critical to global wheat research as it is the direct ancestor of cultivated wheat,” said Distelfeld, head of the Emmer wheat consortium. “With a genome map of Emmer wheat, scientists at universities, global seed research centers and the major seed companies will be able to breed seeds with higher yields, better disease resistance, and more adaptability to extreme growing environments, such as drought or extreme heat conditions.”
For example, wild Emmer wheat is rich in nutrients such as iron and zinc and can be naturally crossed with cultivated wheat. Transferring this trait to bread could reduce malnutrition among those whose diet is based on this staple crop.
“The repercussions of the mapping will be felt around the world,” Distelfeld expanded. “Scientists will now be able to identify key genes in the Emmer wheat and introduce them into commercial wheat via classical breeding, creating hardier varieties across environmental conditions, ultimately increasing the global food supply.”
Researchers participating in the program represent an international collaboration of leading universities in Israel and across the globe, including Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science, University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva.
NRGene, located in Ness Ziona in the Tel Aviv area, is a genomic big data company developing cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of plants and animals for the most advanced computational breeding. NRGene tools have already been employed by some of the leading seed companies as well the most influential teams in academics and NGOs.