Queensland AgTech Targets Drought Resistance

A Queensland start-up that’s developed plant-breeding technology that could make many of the world’s crops drought and virus resistant has received backing from the State Government to rapidly progress its technology to export overseas.

Nexgen Plants recently received approval by US government regulators for its salt-tolerant rice variety which is paving the way for the University of Queensland startup to focus on establishing commercial deals in the huge US market.

The company successfully completed projects with Syngenta, a global food and beverage producer and one of the world’s largest seed businesses.

Nexgen plans to use government funds to expand its partnerships to fast-track the development of non-genetically modified crops with new production, consumer and disease resistance traits.

Nexgen Plants Director Brian Ruddle says the key to the firm’s technology was that it did not add any foreign DNA to a plant but was able to manipulate a plant’s existing genetics to add in traits such as virus resistance and drought resistance.

“We’re just replicating the process of natural breeding but doing it in a way that is quicker and more targeted. We can work out the genetic sequence that gives corn its salt tolerance, and then develop that same sequence in tomato.”

Nexgen Plants has so far worked with tomatoes, potatoes, sorghum and rice and is now expanding the program into a range of other crops.

Nexgen Plants’ technologies can prevent crop viruses from wiping out the food supplies and crop-derived incomes. An important focus of its work is on salt-tolerant and disease-resistant crops, traits that will improve outcomes during drought.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner says Nexgen Plants recently received funding through the Advance Queensland Business Development Fund and founding shareholders Yuuwa Capital LP and Uniseed.

Innovation Minister Kate Jones says the terrible plight of Australian farmers battling the drought was a timely reminder of the importance of the work of companies like Nexgen in Queensland’s burgeoning AgTech sector.

“Crop losses caused by environmental stress like drought and salinity or viruses are a multi-billion-dollar global problem.”

“We’re committed to investing in innovative local companies to create the jobs of the future in this state – that’s why the government is investing more than half-a-billion dollars in Advance Queensland to diversify our economy.”