Evogene Ltd., a developer of improved plant traits for the food, feed and biofuel industries, announced the successful completion of a two-year pilot program for development and validation of a discovery platform targeted at the identification and use of long non-coding RNA ("lncRNA") related genes for plant trait improvement.

Initiated during 2011, the pilot program utilized state-of-the-art high throughput sequencing methodologies to produce a vast amount of genomic data. This data was then analyzed using the Company's proprietary computational genomic technologies in order to identify, assemble and characterize novel lncRNAs, their related genes, and their effect on key plant traits. Currently, dozens of these lncRNA related genes are being validated by Evogene under various growth conditions.

lncRNA is the largest subgroup within ncRNA and exists in high abundance in plant species. Transcribed from DNA regions, previously known as 'junk DNA', and not coding proteins, these molecules are now recognized as having key roles in determining many of the complex characteristics which play significant roles in plant traits. Therefore lncRNA represents a largely unexplored world of genetic variation both within and between species and provides Evogene with an anticipated additional rich source for novel genes for plant improvement.

Evogene's core capabilities and competitive advantages relate to identification and utilization of genes effecting key plant traits. To date, the source for identification of such genes, for Evogene and in general, for the rest of the industry, has focused on DNA regions that encode for proteins. Although, this research area continues to provide Evogene with substantial opportunities for identifying novel genes, the addition of lncRNA related genes as a further significant new gene source, is anticipated to take Evogene's world leading agbio discovery efforts to a new level.

Four objectives were achieved in the course of the successful pilot program: the creation of a substantial highly accurate lncRNA genomic data base from a number of different plant species; the development of a discovery platform for accurate identification of lncRNAs and related genes from this data base; linking of these lncRNAs to specific plant traits; and experimental proof, through the use of Evogene's model plant validation system, that lncRNA originating from one plant species can significantly affect traits in other plant species.

"As a world leader in developing improved plant traits based on coding genes, which has yielded impressive and growing R&D pipelines of beneficial plant traits for ourselves and our partners, we have now set a goal for Evogene to be a leader in the largely unexplored, but very promising, field of long non-coding RNA as well," said Dr. Hagai Karchi, Evogene's EVP Development and CTO. "lncRNA is an innovative research field which has great potential for improving key plant traits. Furthermore, we believe this new 'gene reservoir' will provide a substantial opportunity for discovery and beneficial modification of additional plant traits beyond those currently identified, for both internal development and collaboration with our agbio partners."

An Introduction to DNA, Genes and RNA

  • DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) contains the complete "blueprint" for each living organism.
  • Regions of DNA that transcribe (i.e. produce) RNA (ribonucleic acid) are termed "genes".
  • Each RNA can either encode (i.e. produce) a protein (messenger RNA or "mRNA"), or not encode ("ncRNA").
  • ncRNA has various subgroups such as long non-coding RNA ("lncRNA"), micro RNA ("miRNA") and small interfering RNA ("siRNA").
  • The largest subgroup currently known in the plant kingdom is lncRNA.
  • To date, most commercial efforts worldwide has focused on mRNA, the related genes and the resulting proteins.