Thursday, April 2, 2015

Long Live Petunias!

PetuniasA pot of pretty petunias will practically sell itself, but petunias don’t retain their beauty for long. A joint Israeli-American “precise breeding” project is now working toward extending the life of these popular flowers.

The three-year collaboration brings together a patented plant-breeding technology called MemoGene, developed by Israel’s Danziger Innovations and the Hebrew University’s Yissum tech-transfer company, with a DNA editing platform developed by Precision Biosciences in North Carolina.

The platform’s biological “scissors” will be tailored to cut open the flower’s genome at exactly the right spot for MemoGene to deliver the life-extending trait.

The partnership is supported by a BIRD (Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development) Foundation grant awarded in December of 2014.

 “Domesticating” plants for the market by selecting genes to enhance yield and seed quality causes some desirable traits to be lost along with undesirable ones. Reinserting the lost “good” trait is a cumbersome, lengthy process that can be shortened by using genetic modification – a technique that is highly regulated because it raises questions of safety in food crops.

MemoGene technology is as specific as genetic modification, but it is deregulated because it does not  add any new genes that are not already present in nature. This advantage hastens commercialization and avoids consumer concerns.

Though the technology can be applied to just about any crop – and probably will be in the future – petunias were a good place to start. The pink-to-purple flower is a favorite; 300 million to 350 million cuttings are supplied to growers around the world every year. And the flower is well understood on a molecular level due to numerous scientific studies.

Another reason to start with petunias is Danziger’s expertise and market share in petunia varieties. The family-owned Danziger Innovations, founded in 2008, is the R&D spin-off of the 62-year-old Danziger - "Dan" Flower Farm, one of the world’s top five providers of petunia cuttings.

Danziger - "Dan" Flower Farm’s petunias are propagated by cuttings, not by seeds, and exported from Israel to growers and nurseries all over the world.

Located in Mishmar HaShiv’a near Ben-Gurion International Airport, Danziger - "Dan" Flower Farm is one of the biggest floriculture breeders and exporters in Israel, supplying not only petunia cuttings but also propagating material for many ornamental plants and flowers to customers in 60 countries.

The innovative petunias coming from the new joint project are to be tested and implemented in Israel as well as in Danziger-owned flower farms in Guatemala and Kenya, where land and water are more plentiful than in Israel.

These farms - and potentially many more - stand to benefit from the new precision-breeding research now underway.

Non-GMO breeding has the potential to help solve the world’s looming food crisis. A decade ago, the ambitious and well-meaning Golden Rice project of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology sought to provide vitamin A enriched rice to parts of Southeast Asia where many people were vitamin-deficient. But the project failed because of widespread rejection of genetically modified crops. Millions are suffering and dying just because Golden Rice was labeled GMO and nobody wanted to consume it.

Once the proof of concept for the Danziger Innovations-Precision Biosciences technology in petunias is completed, it can be offered as a tool to produce better food crops in the future.

Source: Israel21c

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