Recent work in seed technology is now combining natural breeding techniques with proprietary algorithms to produce non-genetically modified organisms (non-GMO) seeds that have a superior nutritional profile, while also boosting crop yield.
Equinom Ltd., a company based in Israel, is creating cutting-edge technology in an ecosystem that directly connects food companies to the supply chain. This brings greater transparency and paves the way for more responsible sourcing of high-value plant protein.
Equinom’s tech experts have used DNA sequencing and algorithms to discover various genomic crop characteristics. They follow careful selection results in breeding to produce seeds that maximize a plant’s natural abilities. This technology enables production of non-GMO grains and pulses, including chickpeas, sesame and soy, that possess substantially more protein with better functionality than varieties currently on the market, according to Gil Shaley, CEO for Equinom. This will help to produce high-quality protein on less land, with less water consumption and reduced crop waste, all of which are important in maintaining a sustainable food supply.
“The plant-based protein mega-trend has driven food companies to create more and more tasty, nutritious plant-based products,” Shaley said. “However, meeting demand has presented challenges due to poor organoleptic properties inherent in many plant protein ingredients. The high investment required to develop new, profitable varieties using conventional breeding, coupled by slow throughput, poses more obstacles.
The multi-tiered program developed by Equinom contains three distinct areas:
- Define the product – Work is done with food companies to define their desired target attributes such as protein load, taste, color and nutritional score.
- Crossbreeding – The desired qualities are sought in singular seed varieties or developed through crossbreeding.
- Optimized genetic code – The target production is formulated using a proprietary algorithm that runs millions of genomic combinations in silico (via computer modeling), in order to identify seeds with the highest nutritional potential.
The work of Equinom could bring benefits to all involved along the agri-food chain. Farmers may be able to grow more sustainable crops from seeds tailored to desired specifications. This may result in the benefits of better economies-of-scale as crop yield potential is dramatically enhanced.
In addition, consumers and food companies may be able to enjoy products of a higher nutritional value at competitive prices.
“A food company that depends on legumes of a certain composition may have to wait anywhere between five to 10 years under traditional (breeding) methods,” said Itay Dana, director of marketing at Equinom. “Today, working in concert with the food company, we can design a target product with all the desired characteristics of taste, quality and nutrient composition within two to three years.”
To date, Equinom has signed several contracts with global leaders in the food industry including Sabra Dipping Company (a joint venture of PepsiCo, Inc.) and Israel’s Strauss Group. Equinom has expressed a long-term goal of moving the agricultural sector into a new sustainable, more profitable phase and to create more plant-protein diversity.
Exciting times are ahead for plant breeding and seed development.