Industry News    |   Posts    |   Vol. 2 Issue 1   

Tailored to seed professionals, Industry News delivers the people, research, business and product news you need to know. Submissions are welcome. Email us at news@issuesink.com.

People News

Effective April 1, Incotec’s former CEO JanWillem Breukink announced that he will retire from the company’s board of directors. The decision is in accordance with the transition process the Netherlands-based Incotec initiated in 2014, with the appointment of Douwe Zijp as CEO.

Breukink has accepted a position on Incotec’s advisory board providing advice and consultation on strategic, technical and market-oriented issues. “JanWillem has been invaluable to the establishment and success of Incotec and an inspiring leader to many in the seed technology sector,” says Bart Constandse, supervisory board chairman. “Through his new advisory position and his various roles within Seed Valley, the European Seed Association and the International Seed Federation, we are fortunate that the organization will still benefit from JanWillem’s extensive knowledge and experience.”

Tim Kerridge has been appointed managing director of DLF-TRIFOLIUM in the United Kingdom and Ireland. “Tim and his forage team have consolidated our position as market leader in the U.K., and as the preferred professional partner in the grass seed supply chain,” says DLF Trifolium’s CEO Truels Damsgaard. “He is well known and respected and has already achieved a great deal, not least managing during 2014 the design and build of a £3-million seed mixing plant outside Edinburgh, Scotland. This will supply 5,000 tonnes of grass and clover seed to farmers across the U.K. each year.”

Ksenia Krasileva joins The Genome Analysis Centre’s (TGAC) Science Faculty to lead the Institute’s new Triticeae Genomics Group, in joint appointment with The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL). As triticeae genomics group leader, Krasileva will be responsible for the generation, integration, investigation and release of improved genomic data for wheat and other triticeae species. Engaging with international partners and collaborators, Krasileva and her team will aim to deploy the software for whole-genome assembly and analyses, incorporating a variety of datasets and generation of novel data. The genome sequence data will be prepared for public release in collaboration with other research groups at TGAC and the European Bioinformatics Institute. Ksenia joins TGAC and TSL from University of California, Davis where she led the development of advanced genomics tools for wheat under the mentorship of Jorge Dubcovsky.

The International Wheat Yield Partnership, a funding and coordination partnership for stimulating wheat research and development to countries around the world, has appointed Jeff Gwyn as director and will lead all aspects of IWYP’s program. IWYP brings together research funders, international aid agencies, foundations, companies and major wheat research organisations to help raise the genetic yield potential of wheat by up to 50 per cent over the coming 20 years. IWYP was formally launched in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in April 2014. Gwyn — a plant breeder and research manager — will create, coordinate and guide the multinational research program towards commercially relevant breakthroughs that result in current maximum yields being exceeded. IWYP will launch its first competitive call for research proposals in early 2015.

Product News

Bioagriculture company Groundwork BioAg Ltd. has signed a globally exclusive license agreement to develop, produce and commercialise mycorrhizal strains isolated and bred at the Agricultural Research Organization’s (ARO’s) Volcani Center. The agreement also includes exclusive rights to proprietary production methods that were developed at the centre over the last two decades. Controlled field trials conducted by Groundwork and by ARO have demonstrated double-digit yield increases in several crops, including corn, bell pepper, sunflower and banana. Groundwork’s mycorrhizal inoculants are highly concentrated, pure and vigorous, and thus able to reach efficacy rates that are sufficient for mainstream agricultural products.

The associates of Ad Terram BV have begun a new and exclusive cooperation with SeQso BV to meet the needs of the agro industry in seed selection with a revolutionary new concept. Plans to develop this new alliance were initiated by Jan Tamboer (Ad Terram BV) and Fred Hugen (SeQso BV). This new exclusive alliance will offer their clients in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa support in developing new business to their clients with a revolutionary single seed selection methodology, which will change the industry’s perspective on using technology like this for their crop improvement. “This alliance between SeQso and Ad Terram is an important step towards realising our wish to start using our technologies and competences in this industry and to add value and service to companies in need of new and exciting plans for the future,” says Tamboer. “The new approach toward the industry in selection methodologies is really very exciting — we offer a turnkey solution to those companies who want to use seed selection in their programs in order to meet today’s standards and the standards of the future.”

NRGene has mapped five novel complex maize genomes from the most commercially successful, publicly available lines using its proprietary DeNovoMAGIC big data analysis platform. Delivering results in under a week for each genome, DeNovoMAGIC has constructed very detailed and highly accurate assemblies that have led to the discovery of new genes. Previous attempts at mapping took months and years. NRGene’s DeNovoMAGIC platform is proven to allow quick and accurate re-construction of reference genomes for even the most complex genomes like maize. “Global food scarcity means that plant geneticists and breeders must produce better seeds much faster,” says Gil Ronen, NRGene’s CEO. “Our genomic big data DeNovoMAGIC technology is already supporting them with the precise and relevant data required to boost their research toward gaining heartier yields.”

Business News

Eurofins Genomics, the genomics division of the Eurofins Scientific Group and international market leader in genomic services, has now established its own subsidiary in Austria. Customers will be served directly through Eurofins Genomics AT GmbH located in Vienna. The acquisition of the oligonucleotide synthesis and DNA sequencing businesses from VBC-Biotech will allow Eurofins Genomics to benefit from local presence in Austria, as well as leveraging the global network, production capacity and infrastructure of the Eurofins organisation. “The new direct presence in Austria will provide value to our customers by demonstrating our commitment to this market. Furthermore, Vienna can serve as a perfect hub for future business into Central and Eastern Europe and beyond,” says Siegfried Schnabl, managing director of Eurofins Genomics AT.

Koppert Biological Systems has begun work on construction of a new international research and development centre, located in Berkel en Rodenrijs, the Netherlands. The new centre will also contribute to international cooperation between the entomology and microbiology disciplines. It will be equipped with a large number of modern climate-controlled chambers for research into natural enemies under a range of climatic conditions. The entomology laboratory will also be located close to the microbiological products laboratory. According to the company, “this will result in more national and international exchanges of knowledge between the entomology and microbiology departments in the development of integrated cultivation systems.”

PETKUS Technologie GmbH has opened one of the most modern seed processing plants in Germany. The Raiffeisen Waren GmbH Kassel is a turnkey processing plant, including combined storage silos in Großengottern. With 162 years of experience, PETKUS brings its partners and customers the company’s specialty field of seed and grain processing machines. Thanks to the new facility, the processing and refining of various different cereal species such as wheat, barley, rye and oats to high-quality, certified seed will now take place in Großengottern.

Eurofins Genomics, a pioneer and key provider of next generation sequencing (NGS) and Igenbio, a leading provider of microbial bioinformatics and gene manipulation tools and services have announced a co-operation agreement to combine their expertise in sequencing and analysis services for microbial, fungal and algal organisms. With the cooperation, customers benefit from “one-stop shopping” for complete genomics projects that deliver analysis results from raw extracted DNA. Both companies together serve a worldwide market for their products and services. “We take specific care to build up a technical and operational pipeline which is suitable to meet our quality standards and the high service level we want to provide to our customers,” says Bruno Poddevin, senior vice-president of Eurofins Genomics. “The specific know-how and bioinformatics capabilities of Igenbio are an excellent fit to our portfolio for prokaryotic, yeast and fungal genome sequencing services.”

Evogene Ltd. has opened dedicated research and development facilities at its Rehovot facility in Israel to support the company’s product programs focusing on fungus, insect and weed control. The company sees crop protection as a major focus of growth and expansion and looks to develop novel seed traits as well as seed external solutions for these areas. Over the past year, Evogene significantly increased its activities in the area of crop protection. In late 2013, as part of its multi-year collaboration with Monsanto, the company announced a new product program targeting stalk rot disease caused by various fungi species. In April, Evogene disclosed its entry into the area of plant insect resistance and control with initial activities focusing on developing seed traits displaying resistance to two key insects, corn rootworm and soybean aphid. With respect to weed control, the company recently announced that it anticipates completing during 2015 a start-to-end molecular discovery platform for the development of chemical herbicides based on novel modes of action.

Bayer CropScience is optimistic about the development perspectives of the agricultural markets and commits to invest significantly to deliver new solutions for sustainable agriculture. “We are convinced of the long-term growth potential of the agricultural markets despite increasing volatility,” says Liam Condon, Bayer CropScience CEO. “We expect the worldwide market for agricultural inputs of crop protection products, seeds and traits to grow to around € 100 billion by 2020, up from € 50 billion in 2008.” The company has embarked on an investment program that will see capital expenditures of € 2.4 billion through to 2016, which includes € 1.3 billion to be spent in Europe with € 800 million planned for Germany. By 2016, Bayer CropScience also plans for capital expenditures of €700 million in North America and € 400 million in Latin America and Asia Pacific. The largest individual investments are planned for the Dormagen, Frankfurt and Knapsack sites in Germany, as well as Mobile, Alabama, and Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States.

Industry News

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom discover why the first buds of spring come increasingly earlier. Researcher Steven Penfield found that plants have an ideal temperature for seed set and flower at a particular time of year to make sure their seed develops just as the weather has warmed to this “sweet spot” temperature. Penfield, working with Vicki Springthorpe at the University of York, found the sweet spot for the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana — a small flowering plant native to Eurasia — is between 14 and 15 Celcius. Seeds that develop in temperatures lower than 14 C will almost always remain dormant and fail to germinate. This allows the mother plant to produce seeds with different growth strategies, increasing the chances that some of her progeny will successfully complete another generation. As the climate changes the sweet spot for seeds comes earlier in the year, so first flowers bloom correspondingly earlier too. The research, which received funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) and was published in eLife, used computer models to understand the growth strategy of Arabidopsis thaliana.

The European Technology Platform ‘Plants for the Future’ (Plant ETP) organised a high-level conference to present its three Action Plans in Brussels. Plant breeders, farmers and public researchers worked together within the framework of the Plant ETP to develop joint solutions to better respond to specific challenges and work for supportive and clear policies. “These Action Plans must be understood as an integrated strategic approach for Europe to address principal challenges such as food security, healthy diets and climate change with the help of its breeding sector,” stated Garlich von Essen, secretary-general of European Seed Association. Members of the European Parliament, Commission Officials and representatives from the Member States together with the stakeholders of the Plant ETP discussed the possible solutions that research and innovation could provide and how the European plant breeding sector can play a key role in responding to societal challenges. European leaders were called upon to lend more support to the sector and create the appropriate regulatory framework to maintain Europe’s global leadership and to allow plant breeders to put on the market innovative products responding to consumers’ needs.

A research team from the Huazong Agricultural University in China studied the expression of RNA interference (RNAi) sequences from a Fusarium graminearum virulence gene, chitin synthase (Chs) 3b, to enhance wheat resistance to fusarium head blight (FHB) and fusarium seedling blight (FSB). Three RNAi constructs were found to silence Chs3b in transgenic F. graminearum strains. These were then expressed in two transgenic wheat lines. The transgenics exhibited high levels of resistance to FHB and FSB. The three RNAi present in the transgenic wheat efficiently down-regulated the Chs3b expression in the pathogen. Results show that host-induced gene silencing of an essential fungal chitin synthase gene is an effective strategy for enhancing resistance in plants.

Kansas State University scientists have released findings of a complex, two-year study of the genomic diversity of wheat that creates an important foundation for future improvements in wheat around the world. Their work has produced the first haplotype map of wheat that provides detailed a description of genetic differences in a worldwide sample of wheat lines. “All of these new, genomic-based strategies of breeding promise to significantly accelerate breeding cycles and shorten release time of future wheat varieties,” says Eduard Akhunov, associate professor of plant pathology and the project’s leader. Akhunov said the haplotype map gives scientists quick access to rich, genetic variation data that increases the precision of mapping genes in the wheat genome, and improves scientists’ ability to select the best lines in breeding trials. The project was coordinated through the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, and included groups in Canada, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.

A new report, Agricultural Inoculants Market by Type, Source, Mode of Application, Crop Type, and Geography – Global Trends & Forecasts to 2019, published by Markets and Markets projects the agricultural inoculants market to reach $398.56 million by 2019 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.5 per cent from 2014. Latin America is projected to emerge as the fastest growing region with a CAGR of approximately 10 per cent from 2014 to 2019. According to the authors, “agricultural inoculants are gaining popularity because of their multi-functional benefits to plants in sustainable agriculture.” Growth of the agricultural inoculants market is primarily triggered by factors such as rise in cost and demand for chemical/mineral fertilisers and pesticides and increasing awareness about organic farming practices. “Even though there are a number of products available in the market, the inoculants market is under-explored,” according to the authors of the report. “Lack of awareness among the farmers and prevailing problems within marketing and distribution are restricting the availability of inoculants at the farm level.”

According to BCC Research’s new report, Agricultural Biotechnology: Emerging Technologies and Global Markets, the global market for ag biotechnology is expected to grow to US$46.8 billion by 2019, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 per cent. The biotechnology tools category, the fastest growing segment of the market, is moving at a CAGR of 49.9 per cent. “Rapid changes in highly technical fields such as DNA sequencing, genome editing, and synthetic biology are driving new products and applications in agriculture,” according to the authors. Genomic-enabled products, the largest segment of the overall market, include transgenic seeds and synthetic biology-enabled products, which use plant feed-stocks. This segment is expected to reach US$38.6 billion in 2019 to register a CAGR of 10 per cent.

Keele University and Russell IPM Ltd in the United Kingdom have been awarded funding for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership to design improved traps for the control of thrips and whiteflies that have a huge impact on global food production. Western lower thrips cause extensive financial losses of at least £3,000 per hectare per season to soft fruit growers. The market is large and with 4,969 hectares of strawberries grown in Britain, the cost of damage in that area alone could run to £15 million each year. Whitefly attacks vegetables grown in greenhouses and open-field crops. There are around 57 whitefly species that are particularly damaging to crops, not only by feeding on the plants themselves but by carrying disease-causing viruses as well. Keele scientists — led by William Kirk and professor Gordon Hamilton in the School of Life Sciences — will work with Russell IPM Ltd during the two-year partnership to transfer knowledge and skills to the company to improve traps for the control of thrips and whiteflies in greenhouse crops.

Experts from the United Kingdom and India are working together to identify and develop novel environmentally sustainable strategies to control plant pests, known as plant-parasitic nematodes or eelworms, to ensure global food production and security. This project is funded by the U.K.-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI). Plant-parasitic nematodes are thought to cause annual losses to crops in the region of $77 billion to $100 billion globally. Since the middle of the 20th century, these crop pests have been controlled through the use of synthetic pesticides. Still, these are some of the most environmentally toxic compounds used in agriculture, and legislation prohibits their use in many parts of the world including Europe and the U.S. Hence, less environmentally harmful methods of control are required. “Both India and the U.K. have a problem with potato cyst nematodes, which has a serious impact on the potato crops each year. This project is to develop natural solutions to control these pests on this important staple crop,” says Keith Davies, senior lecturer in applied nematology at the University of Hertfordshire.

The newly formed United Kingdom-based Norwich Rust Group aims to develop durable resistance in crops. Exploiting advances in genomics, scientists will investigate how parasitic rust fungi invade and feed off plants. They will also use these new techniques to locate genes in some varieties of crops that are able to resist invasion. There are more than 7,000 species of rust fungi, causing diseases such as wheat stem rust, wheat yellow stripe rust, Asian soybean rust and coffee rust. The Norwich Rust Group is comprised of Peter van Esse, Ksenia Krasileva, Matthew Moscou, Benjamin Petre, Diane Saunders, Cristobal Uauy and Brande Wulff. Their combined research interests range from detailed understanding of how pathogens cause disease through to the breeding of resistance in the host plants. They specifically will focus on rust pathogens that infect agriculturally and economically important plants such as wheat, barley and soybean. The Norwich Rust Group (NRG) aims to become a hub for rust research and already has 52 collaborators in 23 countries around the world — all driven to develop new technologies and approaches to combat rust fungi efficiently.

A new study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom has found that viruses carried by commercial bees can jump to wild pollinator populations with potentially devastating effects. The researchers are calling for new measures to be introduced that will prevent the introduction of diseased pollinators into natural environments. Fast-evolving viruses carried by these managed populations have the potential to decimate wild pollinator species, including bees, hoverflies and butterflies, placing biodiversity and food security at risk. The researchers reviewed existing studies to determine the potential for disease emergence within wild pollinator communities based on known honeybee viruses. The main culprit of disease-related losses from commercial honeybee colonies is the Varroa mite. This parasite helps spread viral diseases and may increase their virulence. One of these viruses — the deformed wing virus — has recently been identified as an emerging disease in pollinators and its prevalence in commercial honeybees has been linked to its existence in wild bumblebees. Future work will investigate which commercial species is driving disease transmission. The researchers will also monitor the effectiveness of existing conservation schemes to determine their success in protecting wild pollinator populations.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released its annual assessment of global biotech crop acreage, showing that 18 million farmers planted 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops across 28 countries in 2014, the 18th straight year of growth and the most ever in a single year. According to the authors, Bangladesh became the newest country growing biotech crops after approving Bt brinjal plantings and, for the third straight year, developing countries grew the majority of biotech crops —demonstrating the technology is scale-neutral and can bring economic and environmental benefits to farms large and small. “Farmers face incredible challenges maintaining abundant, high-quality harvests in a time of extreme growing conditions and reduced availability of natural resources,” says Denise Dewar, executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International. “Our industry is proud to support these growers through biotech seeds that fight insects, weeds and diseases, build resilience to extreme weather, and, ultimately, improve their ability to feed our world.” Acreage growth has been driven by farmers who continue to plant biotech seeds year-after-year; in fact, ISAAA estimates that the repeat planting rate for biotech crops is virtually 100 per cent.

A new report from researchers at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment has found that climate variability historically accounts for one-third of yield variability for maize, rice, wheat and soybeans worldwide — the equivalent of 36 million metric tons of food each year. This provides valuable information planners and policy makers can use to target efforts to stabilise farmer income and food supply, and so boost food security in a warming world. The researchers looked at newly available production statistics for maize, rice, wheat and soybean from 13,500 political units around the world between 1979 and 2008, along with precipitation and temperature data. The team used this data to calculate year-to-year fluctuations and estimate how much of the yield variability could be attributed to climate variability — about 32 to 39 per cent of year-to-year variability for the four crops could be explained by it. This is substantial — the equivalent of 22 million metric tonnes of maize, three million metric tonnes of rice, nine million metric tonnes of wheat, and two million metric tonnes of soybeans per year. The research team is now looking at historical records to see whether the variability attributable to climate has changed over time, and if so, what aspects of climate are most pertinent.

An international consortium of more than 30 research institutes has deciphered the complex genome sequence of oilseed rape, Brassica napus L. — more commonly known as canola, the most important oilseed crop in Europe, Canada, and Australia. The study showed that apart from the post-Neolithic hybridisation that led to its formation, oilseed rape has one of the most highly duplicated genomes of all flowering plants, because of numerous older polyploidisations that occurred during its evolution. This phenomenon led to the accumulation of a great number of genes — 101,000 in total, one of the highest gene densities of any previously sequenced organism, and four times more than the 20,000-25,000 genes of humans. “The main difficulty for oilseed rape has been to differentiate its different sub-genomes. This has been achieved by the development of an original sequencing strategy, bioinformatics tools and the analysis of duplicated gene expression and their regulation,” says Boulos Chalhoub of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) who coordinated the research efforts within the international consortium. The paper presenting the research results has been published in the journal Science.

Web and App News

Phenome Networks, a plant breeding management and analytics software company, has launched Project Unity — a collaborative web-based network designed to host, manage, analyse and share phenotypic and genotypic studies of plants and animals. Project Unity lets researchers privately link and correlate their results with the world’s data, unleashing research insights through big data analytics. Researchers can connect their entities (genotypes, phenotypes and markers) to common ontologies and maps and get immediate access to the entire wealth of research data from leading universities. “The idea that Project Unity promotes of having a single platform for managing and sharing germplasm, phenotypes and genotypes is very important for both scientific and teaching purposes,” says Todd Wehner, professor at North Carolina State University and a watermelon and cucumber breeder.

Data loaded into Project Unity is private and can be accessed only by the person who uploaded it. Sharing of data sets, either with specific users or with the public is fully upon the user’s discretion. Project Unity simplifies the analysis process of phenotypes and genotypes, creates standardisation and allows smart comparison among different data sets, eventually leading to better understanding of genes’ effects on phenotypes. The platform is currently in beta testing and free of charge for academic use. Later in 2015, it will be upgraded to include full plant breeding management functionality. www.phenome-networks.com

The National Agricultural Library (NAL) has unveiled PubAg, a user-friendly search engine that gives the public enhanced access to research published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists. NAL is part of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. PubAg is a new portal for literature searches and full-text access of more than 40,000 scientific journal articles by USDA researchers, mostly from 1997 to 2014. New articles by USDA researchers will be added almost daily, and older articles may be added, if possible. Phase 1 of PubAg provides access for searches of 340,000 peer-reviewed, agriculturally-related scientific literature, mostly from 2002 to 2012, each entry offering a citation, abstract and a link to the article if available from the publisher. This initial group of highly relevant, high-quality literature was taken from the four million bibliographic citations in NAL’s database. Phase 2 of PubAg, planned for later in 2015, will include the remainder of NAL’s significant bibliographic records. There is no access fee for PubAg. http://pubag.nal.usda.gov/pubag/home.xhtml

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