Super seeds at the grassroots of future resilient food systems
16 Jun 2022 --- A host of plant breeding advancements are facilitating the next-generation of nutrient-dense, resilient crops for future food. Stemming from this science, crops designed with animal proteins that “curdle” or offer “meaty” properties are expanding commercially, while new speed breeding systems and computer vision are offering food producers key cereals with a higher nutrient profile and genetic purity.
FoodIngredientsFirst catches up with seed specialists leading the charge in securing tomorrow’s highly resilient food sources, which offer potential in finished product applications relevant today.
Other than commercial applications, the environmental gains of super seeds are evidently extensive.
According to Swedish agricultural cooperative Lantmännen’s estimates, plant breeding may be “one of the single biggest factors” in achieving goals of reduced climate impact from the agriculture sector, in line with the United Nations Paris Agreement.
Synthesizing meat in plants
Molecular farming is an emerging science that enables the synthesis of real animal proteins’ DNA in any seed crop, carefully selecting each protein for its ability to add value in terms of a targeted functionality trait such as clotting, taste, texture or nutritional value.
The resulting proteins can then be used as ingredients in consumer food products providing tastier, more functional, and affordable animal-free protein alternatives.
Molecular farming specialist Moolec Science is expecting to multiply seed stock of its novel molecularly farmed crops in the US and Argentina. “North America is our first target market,” Gaston Paladini, Moolec CEO & co-founder, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The company’s first two products are Chymosin SPC, a bovine protein expressed in safflower that has curdling applications in the cheese industry, and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), a nutritional oil sourced from Bioceres Crop Solutions.
Now that both products have been cleared by regulatory authorities, Moolec is extending its product development efforts by using the two crops that are most broadly used as protein alternatives – soy and peas – to develop actual meat proteins.
This could allow the company to possibly consider other market opportunities. Such possible market opportunities include milk, egg, chicken and fish replacements, or other alternative biomaterials and cosmetics.
“We need to redefine ‘vegan’. Moolec aims to produce real animal proteins without raising, harming, or killing any animal,” Paladini comments, when asked about labeling specificities.
“The protein is made by the plant’s own processes, and the ‘new’ protein is incorporated into its matrix, next to all of the native proteins of the crop. Once the plant is done growing, the crops are harvested in the usual manner, and can then be processed.”
Moolec Science also plans to merge with LightJump Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company, which will result in Moolec Science becoming a publicly listed company.
The Moolec Science LightJump Acquisition Corp. business combination sets the company’s pro forma equity value at US$504 million.
The transaction is expected to be completed in the second half of 2022.
Speed breeding seeds
Lantmännen has installed new technology at its plant breeding department in Svalöv, Sweden, anticipated to aid the development of future crops “much faster than before”.
The aim is to develop new varieties with increased yields, better quality and stronger resistance to climate change, disease and infestation.
Working with its subsidiary Crop Tailor, the company has set up new cultivation chambers, enhanced computing power and an advanced laboratory to map the characteristics of crops with high precision.
“We are focusing on cereals, forage crops and field legumes, mainly. Regarding nutritional factors, we are currently working on raising the beta glucan levels and protein content in oats,” says Dr. Alf Ceplitis, group manager of population improvement at Crop Tailor.
The new facility in Svalöv, located in the southern parts of Sweden, is equipped with several modern cultivation chambers where light, temperature and other environmental factors can be precisely regulated, which provides conditions for so-called “speed breeding”.
In each chamber, 20,000 seedlings can be grown for up to six generations per year, compared to one generation per year in the field. Robots take leaf samples and extract DNA, which is then read off automatically.
The information contained in the genome is analyzed using advanced algorithms and provides knowledge of the special properties of each plant.
“Spring oats is the crop where we have the most experience in the new way of breeding. But we also see huge potential in forage crops, for example,” notes Dr. Ceplitis.
“In order to be allowed to put seed on the market, each new variety must be accepted on a national list of approved crop varieties. To protect the variety owner’s exclusive right to produce and sell seed – as well as out-licensing the rights to other seed companies – we also apply for Plant Breeder’s Rights. All this has been standard procedure for a long time and has not changed with the new breeding methods.”
Screening genetic purity with machine vision
Meanwhile, Israeli AI-driven company Seed-X’s GeNee technology combines proprietary computer vision and customized deep learning algorithms to facilitate “non-destructive”, seed-by-seed classification.
The platform analyzes comprehensive seed image data to predict unaddressed quality attributes such as germination and physical and genetic purity.
Seed-X recently partnered with EcoBreed to apply its GeNee technology to EcoBreed’s proprietary wheat germplasm. Grain protein and microelements concentration and composition were identified as important quality measures that define nutritional value – useful in finished products.
Seed-X’s has also teamed up with Dutch seed supplier Advanta Seeds to apply new smart technology in seed processing.
“After a trial period of several months, during which Seed-X technology was applied and tested by Advanta Seeds’ quality control team, we became utterly convinced in the technology,” says Bhupen Dubey, global CEO of Advanta Seeds.
Seed-X’s software is embedded in the GeNee Sorter – the first sorting machine that facilitates seed segmentation powered by Seed-X’s GeNee technology.
“The unprecedented sorting performance enabled us to recover non-sellable seed lots, by meeting qualification standards of germinability and usability, including exclusion of blind seedlings. Thanks to its high sorting capabilities, we will now be able to better manage our inventory, plan next year’s production and reduce our seed waste.”
With traditional separation procedures, an average of 10% to 15% of seed lots are deemed unusable, notes Seed-X. The company has applied its technology in analyzing over 300 different seed lots from more than 40 seed companies.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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