from the January 2011 issue

Bayer and Evogene sign collaboration agreement to improve wheat seed

Bayer CropScience AG and Evogene Ltd. (TASE: EVGN) have entered into a five-year collaboration to accelerate the development and introduction of improved wheat varieties. Improvements will be pursued for wheat yield, drought tolerance, fertilizer use efficiency and certain other wheat traits utilizing a combination of advanced breeding and state of the art genetic modification methods. Bayer will have exclusive rights to commercialize in wheat the traits resulting from this collaboration.

The collaboration further builds on an on-going partnership between Bayer CropScience and Evogene, which was initiated in 2007 and expanded in 2009, for increasing rice productivity and yield.

In a separate agreement, Bayer CropScience will make an equity investment of USD 12 million in Evogene at a price of approximately USD 7 per ordinary share.

On a global basis, wheat is the largest crop in terms of cultivated area and one of the most important food crops. The critical need to provide sufficient wheat to meet the needs of the growing world population is widely recognized. Significant efforts are being directed towards addressing this challenge, primarily through programs attempting to increase yields and to sustainably reduce required inputs, such as water and fertilizer.

The collaboration will utilize Evogene's ATHLETE, RePack and EvoBreed computational genomic technologies for the identification of genetically modified and native traits to improve yield, drought tolerance, fertilizer utilization and certain other characteristics in wheat. Bayer CropScience will utilize its capabilities in breeding and product development to incorporate genetically modified and native traits identified by Evogene, into its wheat pipeline for developing elite varieties displaying improved performance. The resulting improved wheat varieties will be commercialized by Bayer CropScience.

Evogene will receive approximately USD 20 million in the form of upfront fees and annual research payments over the term of the agreement. Furthermore, the company will receive development milestone payments and royalties on the commercialization of any resulting products. Further details of the agreement were not disclosed.

"The wheat industry is facing challenges, such as changing climate, the decline of mineral resources used for fertilizer and the need to increase crop yields. We look forward to working together with Evogene in the area of wheat research to help tackle these issues," said Lykele van der Broek, Chief Operating Officer of Bayer CropScience. "Being market and innovation Leader in the crop protection market for Cereals, we aim to become the partner of choice to wheat growers and the wheat industry and will offer superior integrated solutions to improve cereal production in a sustainable way."

"We are very pleased by this major expansion of our relationship with Bayer CropScience, a worldwide leader in innovative crop science, and we are confident that this joint effort will result in meaningful contributions to meeting the needs of the wheat industry," stated Ofer Haviv, Evogene's President and CEO. "A unique aspect of this collaboration is the synergistic combination of the two research approaches for trait improvement: advanced breeding and biotechnology. By combining these two approaches in one truly collaborative program utilizing an array of Evogene's leading computational genomic technologies and Bayer CropScience's proven product development expertise, we anticipate opportunities for significantly enhanced results."

Main wheat producing regions are Australia, the Black Sea Region, China, the EU, India and North America.

Sequencing the full woodland strawberry genome In a collaborative effort involving 74 researchers from 38 research institutes, scientists have produced the full genome of a wild strawberry plant. The research appeared today in Nature Genetics.

Drs. Asaph Aharoni and Avital Adato of the Weizmann Institute's Plant Sciences Department were the sole Israeli scientists participating in the project, but they made a major contribution in mapping the genes and gene families responsible for the strawberry's flavor and aroma. The woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is closely related to garden-variety cultivated strawberry. The fruit of this berry contains large amounts of anti-oxidants (mainly tannins, the substances that give wine their astringency), as well as vitamins A, C and B12 and minerals - potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition, the strawberry fruit is uniquely rich in substances for flavor and aroma.

Participation in this project is something of a circle closer for Aharoni: For a number of years he has been investigating the metabolic pathways of ripening, in which the substance that give the fruit its flavor and aroma are produced. Aharoni was one of the first to use biological chips to analyze the genetic networks involved in creating these substances. He has also conducted a comparative analysis of these genes in wild and cultivated plants, looking for the differences. Now that the full genome of the wild strawberry plant is available for research, he is able not only to conduct deeper and broader investigations, but to shed new light on some of his past findings. Thus, for instance, in carrying out a computerized analysis of the woodland strawberry genome, Adato was able to place an enzyme that Aharoni had previously characterized in a relatively small enzyme family. This small family is responsible for the production of a large number of aromatic substances, and the finding helped clarify their means of production. Aharoni hopes that, among other things, the newly sequenced genome will help scientists understand how to return the flavors and aromas that have been lost over years of breeding in the cultivated cousin of the wild strawberry. The intense, concentrated aroma and flavor of the woodland strawberry are, he says, something to aspire to.

The woodland strawberry has now joined the elite list of plants, including rice, grapes and soya, which have had their genomes sequenced. The length of the genome is about 240 million bases and contains around 35,000 genes. (In comparison, the human genome has three billion bases, but only 23,000 genes.) The woodland strawberry genome is relatively short, simple and easy to manipulate, and the plant grows quickly and easily. These qualities make it an ideal model plant that might provide insight into other related agricultural crops (the rose family) including cultivated strawberries, and such fruit trees as apples peaches, cherries and almonds.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report January 2011

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