PlantArcBio Ltd., a leading biotechnology startup for the improvement of crop yield, recently completed a funding round that raised $3 million from private investors and Israel Innovation Authority grants. PlantArcBio signed an agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, under which genes that improve drought tolerance will be tested by the university’s scientists in soybean greenhouses and fields in the United States. The genes were discovered by the company using its patented platform.
The newly discovered genes have shown excellent results in model plants in greenhouses, improving their drought tolerance by tens of percentages. Trait development in plants, like drug development, includes three experiment stages: experiments in model plants (plants that are relatively easy to grow and have short life cycles); experiments in a target plant (corn, soybeans, etc.); and extensive field trials in the target plant. After successfully completing the first stage, PlantArcBio has moved on to the second stage. Based on the results of the soybean trials, PlantArcBio will be able to accelerate the commercialization of the genes, which will be sold to seed companies for use in soybean, corn, canola and other crops worldwide.
Climate change in general, and drought specifically, is one of the major causes of crop yield reduction worldwide. A UW-Madison study estimated that U.S. soybean farmers alone have lost $11 billion over the past 20 years due to changes in weather patterns. After averaging nationwide data, researchers found that U.S. soybean yields fell by around 2.4 percent for every one-degree rise in temperature.
Activities associated with the soybean transformation and testing will be led by UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center (WCIC), which includes a state-of-the-art biotech plant laboratory and highly advanced greenhouses.
Michael Petersen, Associate Director, WCIC, says: “We’re excited to collaborate with PlantArcBio. Working together to improve soybean drought tolerance could lead to major breakthroughs in the agricultural realm that would also benefit farmers in the U.S.”
Dr. Dror Shalitin, Founder and CEO, PlantArcBio, says: “As we move on to the next stage of testing our promising genes, we’re very pleased to be joining forces with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This project brings together world-class academic researchers in agricultural science with one of the industry’s most innovative gene discovery companies. Connecting with the University of Wisconsin’s considerable capabilities in plant transformation, as well as soybean cultivation and testing, will enable us to strengthen our results and move closer to a product that will help farmers and improve global food security.”
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