Israeli Agritech Firm Boosts Crop Yields Without Genetic Modification

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Israeli enterprise Kaiima believes it has found a way to improve crop harvests by replicating and accelerating a natural genetic phenomenon in the laboratory.

The future of growing sturdier, sustainable crops for an increasingly hungry world is represented in their rice fields. Most plants evolve via a process called genome doubling, where over time, two species become one with a single genome comprising the strongest features of each parents. The weakest genes fall way and the result is a plant with more robust genetic characteristics.

But in nature this duplication takes thousands of years.

Kaiima's CEO, Doron Gal says his company has been able to accelerate the process and apply it to agriculture. "We found a new technology that lets us double the genome, get all the benefits of the stronger plant but maintaining the integrity of the DNA. And when you do that, then all the good things fall into place – the plat maintains its fertility and full seed set and you have a healthy plant to work with."

Gal added that scientists have been trying for decades to duplicate the plant genome, without success. "The results were not very effective because the (artificial triggering) process damaged the inherent DNA, the original plant DNA and the result was plants without seeds, plants that may be bigger and stronger but without any yields and without genetic stability."

Kaiima won't reveal details of the technology, but the company hopes for seeds to be ready for sale within three years.

Kaiima has raised more than $65 million dollars from international investors for its research. Gal hopes in the next few years to turn that cash asset into bigger, stronger cash crops.

Wheat fields in Israel's Negev Desert.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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