b'company has assembled over 500 genomes in less thanmuch longer-term way, says Katy Navabi, Nuseeds North four years using artificial intelligence (AI)-based genomicAmerica Canola breeding leader. tools and provides some of the largest ag-based compa- As we introduce more elite germplasm to our breed-nies in the world with computational tools to optimizeing, we have to be very familiar with that germplasm at and accelerate breeding programs. the sequence level.Speeding up breeding programs has become RonensThe same need for efficiency and clarity is felt in the lifes work, allowing breeders to do things theyve nevermedical cannabis space. According to Larry Holbrook, been able to do before. chief scientific officer for Zyus based in Saskatoon, a The key to their success is generating high qualitykey to success in modern cannabis breeding is to have data, he says. Thats where NRGene comes in. genomic data to help clean up a crop that historically Historically, plant breeding has been a very long anddidnt have a high level of private and public funding to tedious process in which you try to improve a plant fromhelp improve its genetics.generation to generation, and you do it with very littleWithout genomics data, youre just not going to make it data. Theres been so much trial and error involved. But ifin the cannabis sphere in this day and age, Holbrook says. you can use data, especially genomic data, you can actu- He was introduced to genomics AI technology through ally target your breeding and make it far more efficient,NRGene in 2015 when cannabis genetics were still in their Ronen says.formative stages. The whole idea with genomics AI is that you createThings were quite crude back then. We had terribly a map of the whole genome to help identify crucial genescattered, messy genetics in the cannabis world. We didnt combinations. If you can find them ahead of time usinghave a reference plant. NRGenes know-how helped us genomics on your computer, then you know what yourechange all that.looking for and dont have to breed generations of plantsAs a result, Zyusthe first supplier of medical can-to get to the required result. nabis to Health Canadais now able to define the kind When they were approached by the IWGSC in 2015,of cannabinoid profiles that are believed to be beneficial Ronens team offered to decode the genome all in onein treating specific medical disorders.setmeaning the genome is sequenced with many shortWe really need NRGenes expertise to help us reads, and this data is then assembled like a large puzzle.develop those genomic reference maps, which will help Back then, the idea of decoding a genome thats fiveus create products with specific cannabinoid profiles. We times bigger than the human genome all in one shot wascouldnt possibly invest all that money internally to gener-very new. ate that data ourselves. It would be totally cost-prohibi-Instead of taking 12 years, we assembled the genometive, he adds. in 12 days, and instead of decoding only 5% of it, weve reached 98%. At the time it was quite a remarkable feat. New Technology, New OpportunityResearchers like Pozniak need such valuable data toNRGene is expanding into new territories to be more find genes related to disease resistance, stress tolerance,accessible and help researchers around the globe innovate quality and other traits.and bolster their reputations on the world stage. When we give breeders a map of the full genome,Turning technological capability into business success they are able to specifically target those favourablefor both the breeder and NRGene itself requires knowing genes in their breeding population and make their workthe market and which crops are going to be at the centre more efficient. In Canada it began with wheat, but itsof the innovation space in the years ahead, says NRGenes since moved to many other crops that are bred here inChief Strategy Officer Rick Calk.Saskatchewan, including barley and lentils and evenTo keep up to the change, breeders need fast, con-canola, Ronen says.venient access to genomic technologies that will help them deliver new varieties faster than ever before. It was Opening Doors that need to stay ahead of the global breeding game that Those other crops benefiting from the wonders of genom- helped NRGene pave its path into the Canadian market.ics AI include medical cannabis and canola. NuseedBeing here on campus in Saskatchewan allows us towhich has developed traits for customers acrosshave really good relationships with people who are tech-Australia, Europe, North and South Americafirst col- nology leaders to drive our businesses mutually forward, laborated with NRGene in 2019. Nuseed then joined theCalk adds.International Canola Pan-genome Consortium, meant toThe canola, hemp and plant-based protein spaces are advance the canola industry by capturing the crops broadkey areas NRGene Canada will focus on as it ramps up its genetic diversity. Nuseed contributed its own canola linesCanadian presence, he adds. to the research and received the full pangenome compari-son results.As Nuseed started to grow its breeding program in North America, we needed this kind of technology to develop molecular markers to help speed up our tar- Watch our video feature on the new NRGene facility at geted selection. That said, I look at this partnership in agermination.ca/nrgene-canada32GERMINATION.CAJANUARY 2022'