An Israeli-American collaboration is helping to develop a non-GMO alternative to better crop yields.

The Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) has funded a project that relies on the strong tradition of plant breeding in the Middle East.

“Plant breeding started in the Middle East and a few other places about 8,000 years ago, and we’re continuing the tradition,” BIRD Director of Business Development Ron Maron pointed out.

Unlike GMO crops, the patented plant-breeding technology called MemoGene does not add genes not found in nature but instead uses a “precise breeding” method that helps insert the desirable genes with the help of “biological scissors,” creating a plant with only the desirable traits that is non-GMO.

“It’s a perfect symbiosis, because we each have a piece of a two-piece puzzle,” Hanne Volpin, deputy CEO and head of R&D at Israel’s Danziger Innovations explained. “We have the technology to deliver tools to make the modification to the genome, while Precision Biosciences [in the United States] owns the IP for the biological scissors that cut the genome.”

So far, the team has used the high-tech method to help petunias stay fresh longer, but eventually it could be applied to other crops, including food.

“This new technology enables and democratizes the process of crop perfection, because until now only very large corporations like Monsanto were active in this area,” BIRD Director of Business Development Ron Maron tells ISRAEL21c. “Now, smaller companies and even university startups can get into this field and offer quicker and cheaper new traits to plant breeders.”

Eventually it could even help solve a looming world food crisis.

“Millions are suffering and dying just because Golden Rice [a GMO rice developed to stop hunger] was labeled GMO and nobody wanted to consume it,” Maron explained. “Once we have the proof of concept for the Danziger Innovations-Precision Biosciences technology in petunias, we can offer it as a tool to produce better food crops in the future.”