Technology to protect food crops from viruses and disease could help solve one of the world’s most pressing challenges: meeting the food needs of a growing human population.

Researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a novel platform technology that enables disease-resistant plants to be developed by manipulating the plant’s genomes instead of through genetic modification.

With the help of UQ’s technology transfer company UniQuest, NexGen Plants Pty Ltd is commercialising the technology for food, fibre, energy and ornamental crops.

First to discover plant viruses produce MiRNA

In 2009, UQ’s Professor Peer Schenk discovered viruses can be neutralised through selective breeding to make use of virus-resistant traits that are naturally occurring in crops.

The cornerstone of this technology was the discovery that plant viruses produce RNA — a class of small molecules that can modulate the plant’s defence response to virus attack.

UQ startup company Nexgen Plants Pty Ltd is commercialising a novel platform technology that enables virus-resistant plant varieties to be developed for major food, fibre, energy and ornamental crops.

The cornerstone of this technology is the discovery that plant viruses produce microRNA. MicroRNA is a new class of small non-coding RNA molecules and in plant viruses, they are involved in modulating the plant defence response to virus attack.

Neutralising the microRNA of plant viruses endows the host plant with a reinstated plant defence response.

This cutting-edge virus resistance technology, was developed by Professor Peer Schenk and his team of researchers at UQ’s School of Agriculture & Food Sciences.

Agricultural revolution

The technology developed by Nexgen Plants provides a quick way for breeding companies to select for naturally-occurring virus and diseases-resistant traits in commercial crop varieties.

The technology replicates natural selection by using the plant’s own genome and truncates a process that normally take millions of years into just 12 to 24 months.

This breakthrough offers farmers the potential for improved yields, and plant breeding companies a unique competitive advantage.

The research team has screened a range of high value crops including: sugar cane, soybean, maize, rice, potato, wheat and cotton for potential to develop long-lasting virus resistance using the INTtrait™ technology.

It can also be used to create salt and heat-tolerant crops, enhance nutritional and consumer traits such as fruit shape, size and fragrance, and even increase shelf life.

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Sector

Food and Agricultural Science

impact-inventor

Innovator

Professor Peer Schenk
UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Impact-overview

Overview

Securing a non-GMO future for the world's food crops

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Commercialisation

Patent Application