Equinom innovates “strictly non-GMO” seed-breeding method for high-nutritional soy
The methodology incorporates big data to optimize taste, texture and nutritional content in “cost-effective, non-GMO” crops
18 Jul 2019 --- Israeli startup Equinom Ltd. has developed a “strictly non-GMO” methodology for the seed-breeding of soybeans. It incorporates computational breeding technology, proprietary algorithms and big data analysis to develop multi-trait crops that pack high nutritional value while offering ample flavor. With this method, the company is hoping to transform the soy industry from an “idling commodity” to a value-added “breed-for-purpose” market.
“There is a pronounced gap between customer-demanded organoleptic qualities that produce the tasty, appealing, nutritious meat-alternative products that are taking over the market, and the low-value varieties and qualities currently produced,” Sigal Meirovitch, Ph.D., Head of Protein Development for Equinom, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Consumers are seeking slaughter-free options but not at the expense of taste and texture.”
Equinom reintroduces genes that were disregarded throughout years of industrial breeding that was focused solely on yield. The company’s proprietary algorithm and breeding techniques map out precise genomic crop characteristics to be rendered into highly desirable attributes. The technique brings back plants’ natural nutritional building blocks – traits such as protein and oil concentration – while preserving the benefits of modern varieties such as yield and resistance qualities.
Aside from nutritional composition, the system also screens for characteristics of taste and texture targeted to priority soy applications, including soymilk, tofu, fermented natto, miso and soy protein isolates. After Equinom performs field validation in larger plots and validates trait stability, the company scales up production and commercializes the seeds. Crops are produced without gene editing or manipulation.
The demand for protein-rich plant alternatives to meat, such as soy, is prominent this year. And as plant-based foods are progressively catching up to meat in terms of flavor, taste and texture, innovation pushes to bridge the nutritional gap between the two food groups.
An Innova Market Insights consumer survey showed that one in five US consumers “have eaten less meat over the past year.” Meat substitutes accounted for 14 percent of global meat launches in the first nine months of 2018, up from six percent in 2013.
A new class of seed-breeding
Until now, Equinom notes that non-GMO soy crops cultivated for ideal traits have been prone to yield inconsistencies and have exposed farmers to seasonal failures beyond their control. These problems have been further compounded by limitations in seed variety, agricultural know-how and technological resources to ensure crop performance. In addition, the lack of dialog between the consumers – food companies – and their suppliers – traders, farmers and seed companies, has impeded progress along the supply chain.
According to a recent US Soybean Export Council report, since 1986, overall soy yield has increased by almost 60 percent. However, protein content has remained stagnant at about 35 percent. “In contrast, our bred soybean lines contain nearly 58 percent protein, which is 50 percent higher than the industry standard,” says Itay Dana, Marketing Director for Equinom. “Traditional breeding practices have focused mostly on high yield, but specialty traits are now the in-demand trend for food companies.
The algorithm-powered methodology also offers the potential for future application in a wide range of similar crops, Dana notes. Over years of breeding, Equinom has established a distinctive crop database that features high-throughput genomic and phenotype data from thousands of unique parental and common commercial lines. This enables Equinom to create and deliver a wide range of products in time to market with “unprecedented” speed, the company states.
“Our computational breeding technology was built for the breeding of all types of diploid crops, especially for multi-trait and multi-gene breeding goals,” explains Dana. “We actually breed for more than seven different types crops [sesame, pea, chickpea, fava bean, mung bean, cowpea and quinoa]. Our breeding technology is based on a proprietary algorithm, germplasm bank and genetic and phenotypic big data we collected in the past years, which provide a great value for these crops and accelerate the breeding process.”
Dynamic dialog creates supply chain transparency
With its unique business model, Equinom hopes to further bridge the gap between food ingredient companies and farmers. “We work directly with food and ingredient companies to capture their specific requirements, while demonstrating soy’s full potential and extensive flexibility, as proven in the vast line of soy seed germplasm that our company has generated from years of breeding,” explains Dana.
Equinom communicates closely with grain handlers, providing them direct access to its breed-for-purpose seed collection for sowing optimal seeds from its germplasm, working towards ensuring transparency throughout the soy supply chain.
“Equinom's high-resolution breeding program is taking charge of this agri-business sector, ushering in a new, more profitable era – and food companies are already reaping the benefits,” Dana concludes.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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