Biotech Company Wins Fedral Government Grant To Develop GM Wheat

21 December 2007

Perth-based biotechnology company, Nemgenix Pty Ltd, has been awarded a $320k grant by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Science and Technology (‘DEST’) to develop GM wheat.

The work is funded under DEST’s ‘International Science Linkage’ programme and will be carried out at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, Murdoch University, and in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. It will underpin the development of new varieties of wheat which will be resistant to plant parasitic nematodes. 

Plant parasitic nematodes are roundworms that cause more than $130 billion of crop losses each year. In the case of wheat, the global reduction in yield is estimated at 7.5%, causing around $340m losses pa in Australia alone.

Commenting on the work, Nemgenix’s Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Mike Jones, said “despite the enormous losses caused by plant parasitic nematodes, very little has been done to develop nematode resistant crops. Although there are some natural resistance genes, agriculture has in general relied on control by highly toxic pesticides, or else losses have just been tolerated. To overcome some of the scientific challenges that previously hindered the development of resistant varieties, we will be applying a new technology known as ‘RNAi’, this technology received the Nobel Prize for Science in 2006. Our Indian collaborators have recently completed proof-of-principle studies using this technology and we will now follow-up their success with a commercial development programme.” 

Nemgenix’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Sean Hird, commented “the award, which was won against stiff competition, is a massive vote of confidence in our abilities and recognition that GM technology must be harnessed for the benefit of Australian agriculture. We are the only private company to be awarded a grant under the International Science Linkage programme in 2007 and one of only a handful of companies ever to receive such an award, since the programme was established in 2002. We stand alongside an illustrious list of Australia’s leading Universities and Institutes as fellow recipients. The award is particularly timely for us as we now move to complete our current funding round. We have an exciting time ahead.”