Researchers are hopeful that a gene plucked from a simple weed and spliced into other types of plants like rice, wheat and corn may cut the growth time of those crops in half. This week the University of Rochester licensed the new technology behind this gene transplant to a biogenetics company, Akkadix.
Akkadix is a California-based research company that specializes in using genetic technology to increase crop yields. The scientists at Akkadix will likely attempt to splice the discovered gene into their crops to see if it's possible to grow nutritious, palatable foods in half the time it would take a normal crop.
The discovery of the gene and its ability to significantly accelerate the growth of other plants came from the University's biologists, who had been experimenting with the European weed, known as Arabidopsis thaliana, for the last decade. Biologists regard the weed as the "fruit fly" of the agricultural world-alluding to the fact that the fruit fly is often used for genetic experiments. The characteristic that most interested University biologists was the plant's very rapid reproduction cycle; it's time from seed to full growth is only five weeks, while pea corn's cycle, for instance, is nearly a year in length.
Akkadix scientists will test the feasibility of using the gene to spur the growth of crops. Most genetic research into crop plants focuses on making the plants resistant to disease and insects; this research is one of the few lines that deals with improving the food-producing capabilities of a plant alone. The gene's growth-enhancing function was discovered by former faculty member Animesh Ray, who has since joined Akkadix.