A new Israeli technology from Morflora introduces a drought-tolerant gene into market-ready vegetable seeds, without genetically modifying them.
By Rivka Borochov The US state of Nebraska has lately seen some of the worst drought conditions in history, causing corn crops to fail. Had the farmers been able to vaccinate their seeds against drought at planting time, a disaster may have been averted. It sounds like an idea fit for a science fiction movie, but 21st century Israeli agricultural research can now put these kinds of tools in the hands of seed producers and farmers. The Israeli company Morflora has developed a new platform for introducing a drought-tolerant gene from soy into a corn or rice seed, for example. Unlike genetically modified organism (GMO) technology, this technique lasts for one generation only, without interfering or infiltrating the plant’s genome. Environmentalists and ecologists are concerned that enhancing agricultural output and global food security using GMO technology is dangerous because when foreign genes from one species are put into another, unforeseen consequences on the plants and those who eat them could follow. Morflora bypasses these problems. Based on technology developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and licensed from its tech transfer company Yissum, the Morflora approach is 100 percent safe. CEO Dotan Peleg boldly states that this research, pioneered by Prof. Ilan Sela and Prof. Haim Rabinowitch, among others, is nothing short of a revolution. “We are not transforming plants. We are transforming the industry,” he says. Top tomatoes Dotan knows that GMO companies are in a pickle –- especially in European countries –– but, faced with a growing need for food from crops, there has been little choice up to now for enhancing food productivity. “In the GMO approach the genes are delivered into the cells, with the need of an in-vitro process. In our technology the genes go directly to the seeds. In rice and corn seeds that are ready to market, we can enhance them with some genetic traits in a simple seed treatment,” says Dotan. Since most commercial seeds go through a treatment process anyway, the Morflora approach would just be part of that process.