Science - January 11, 2011

Gene for drought tolerance is worth money

The Plant Sciences Group has entered into a licensing agreement with the French biotechnology firm Biogemma. The French are going to use a gene patented by PSG to increase drought tolerance in wheat.

Five years ago, Wageningen UR Plant Breeding identified genes that make the model plant Arabidopsis (rock cress) better able to withstand drought. The sequential order of genes was patented. 'We have already used these genes in rice varieties and in potatoes with positive results', says Ton den Nijs of the Plant Sciences Group. And now they are being applied in wheat.
There are two options for developing wheat varieties that need less water. The first option is to incorporate the sequence of genes found in Arabidopsis in wheat. 'However, we can also look for homologues - comparable sequences of genes in wheat', says Den Nijs. 'Then you screen various wheat varieties in gene banks to determine whether they have the sequence of genes for this trait.'
Biogemma is a French research institute founded partly by Limagrain, one of the biggest plant breeders in the world. The climate changes, population growth and increasing water shortages in large parts of the world have lead such companies to search for crops that require little water and still give good yields. Besides wheat varieties, Biogemma's research covers maize, sunflowers and rapeseed.