First Lady Rivlin receives groundbreaking findings of research into the “wild wheat” genome sequence

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August 16, 2015

First Lady Nehama Rivlin received today, (Sunday) the findings of groundbreaking research which has for the first time deciphered the Emmer “wild wheat” genome sequence.

Mrs. Rivlin received the revolutionary research findings from Israeli start-up company NRGene, which conducted the research in collaboration with researchers from Tel Aviv University. Decoding the genome of the most essential and important food in the world would enable the development of disease resistant wheat varieties with improved properties and higher harvests yields, and would also allow the acceleration of research into foodstuff development.

Participants included Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO and founder of the company, the company’s chairman David Leiber, Dr. Dr. Assaf Distelfeld and Prof. Amir Sharon, from the Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement at Tel Aviv University, as well as researchers, biologists, programmers and the management team.

First Lady Rivlin greeted the team and said, “Thank you for coming to the President’s Residence and presenting this wonderful enterprise to me. I’m just as excited as you are and perhaps more. I feel a connection to this project as the subject of agriculture is close to my heart and I studied natural sciences and biology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”

Dr. Gil Ronen, CEO of NRGene thanked the President’s wife for the reception and hospitality, and began his presentation with an explanation on the project, the different stages of development and the importance of the project. “The NRGene Company, in cooperation with Tel Aviv University which has been researching wheat for decades, provided a solution and the drive to many research bodies that reached a dead-end with regard to the “wild wheat” genome research. The step we have now reached is a peak in the study of botany, as the wheat genome is more complicated than that of other plants and even more complicated than human genomes. NRGene is an Israeli company, bringing together mathematicians, programmers and researchers, and has developed one of the best maps created in a short amount of time. The research personnel at Tel Aviv University translated this map for the development of genes that are resistant to diseases while improving the wheat crop.”

Dr. Assaf Distelfeld from the Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement at Tel Aviv University said that, “Today, thanks to the genome map, we can find features that are tolerant to drought and disease, and can raise the amount of protein as well as other characteristics that can benefit humans.”

Mrs. Rivlin listened to the findings of the project and admired the success of the study. She also expressed hope that the study will continue to yield positive results that will affect the State of Israel and world agriculture, and emphasized her pride in the researchers, programmers, algorithm experts, and the entire team.

This achievement, made possible by a powerful software computing tool developed by NRGene, is based on algorithms that analyze large databases, which enables analysis of huge amounts of data in large volumes quickly and accurately.

Through the information decoded, crop growers and developers can significantly reduce the cultivation process and quickly isolate desirable genes and develop new varieties. The achievement is particularly impressive given the fact that since 2005 the wheat genome organization IWGSC, which includes hundreds of scientists from around the world, has been trying to decode this sequence, with an investment of more than $50 million (US) so far. Through the program developed by NRGene, researchers were able to decode the genome within a period of only one month, and an investment of only half a million dollars.

Decoding the genome sequence has significant implications, which will enable the development of wheat varieties with better nutritional value, higher resistance levels to deal with extreme climate conditions and will lower the costs of crop growth. The solution can be harnessed to combat global food security in the face of the challenges of global warming and the rapid increase in world population which cause famine in various parts of the world.

This breakthrough comes full circle in the research of wild wheat known as “motherly wheat”, which was discovered by botanist and Zionist activist Aaron Aaronson in 1906, a discovery which led to a breakthrough in the development of civilized wheat.

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