Israeli agritech firm aims for big boost in crop yields
An Israeli enterprise which aims to boost global crop yields without the aid of genetic modification will sow its first commercial seeds within three years, the company pioneering the technique has told Reuters.
Seed technology firm Kaiima Bio-Agritech says it has developed a way to greatly speed up the multiplication of the genome of crops, known as genome doubling, without changing their DNA, or genetic fingerprint.
It is as if a piece of string were thickened into a rope by adding more fibres of the same material, making it stronger and more durable. In agriculture, it means enhancing seeds so that they produce more plentiful and robust crops.
Kaiima has kept secret how it has achieved its breakthrough and says it has filed a number of patents worldwide. Independent experts contacted by Reuters declined to comment on the work, saying they did not have enough details.
In a tour of Kaiima's experimental crop fields in northern Israel, company officials displayed examples of what they said were crops improved by its new technique.
Doron Gal, Kaiima's chief executive officer, said that by 2050, farmers will need to meet the "daunting challenge" of producing 70 percent more food than they do currently to sustain a growing world population.
Kaiima, the Hebrew word for sustainability, said that by 2016 it expects to be able to deliver to growers the basis for producing seeds for enhanced wheat, corn and rice for food and castor for bio-fuel and bio-polymer production.
Israel is considered a world leader in agricultural technology development with irrigation techniques, hot houses and computerised animal feeding systems among leading exported products, the Israel Export Institute said.
Income from agritech exports in 2011 amounted to $3.4 billion, out of a total of $91.7 billion in Israeli exports for that year, according to official figures.
Kaiima, founded in 2007, said in September that it had raised some $65 million in equity from international investors. It does not have any plans for an IPO in the foreseeable future.
"Our plan is for this funding to finance our operation through 2016 when we are going to be able to bring our product to the market ... we will produce seeds together with partners that will be similar in price to regular seeds," Gal said.
Genome doubling evolves in nature, but only over thousands of years. Scientists have been trying since the 1940s to speed up the process but had not been able to avoid damage to a crop's core characteristics.