Seeking to leverage its expertise in microRNAs in areas beyond human health, Rosetta Genomics this week announced that it has established a unit called Rosetta Green focused on using the non-coding RNAs for applications in plant biotechnology.
Rosetta Green’s goal is to harness its parent firm’s miRNA-related technologies and intellectual property to become a partner for companies operating in the agricultural- and plant-biotechnology space, according to Rudy Maor, head of research and development at the new unit.
The move, Maor told RNAi News this week, will allow Rosetta to squeeze additional value out of its existing miRNA efforts.
"There is a large and growing body of evidence … pointing to the importance of microRNAs in plants and algal development, which may have potential applications in a wide range of plant-based biotech products,” Rosetta CEO Amir Avniel said in a statement. “We feel it is critical at this point in time to explore this important field to ensure Rosetta Genomics remains at the forefront of research, development, and commercialization of microRNA-based products."
“We have [the] platform technologies, experience, and know-how within Rosetta Genomics regarding the research and development of microRNAs … [and] wanted to seek other avenues where we could implement that knowledge and experience” beyond the company’s current focus on therapeutics and diagnostics, Maor added.
“We have [the] platform technologies, experience, and know-how within Rosetta Genomics regarding the research and development of microRNAs … [and] wanted to seek other avenues where we could implement that knowledge and experience” beyond the company’s current focus on therapeutics and diagnostics.
Initially, in looking for new opportunities for its miRNA know-how, Rosetta turned to biofuels since the space already has an established market for enabling technologies.
“Other companies are working with biotechnologies … to improve feed stock for biofuels,” Maor said. For example, “increasing the oil content in algae is an indication that is quite popular and there has been a lot of work done on that over recent years.”
Given miRNAs’ role as “master regulators of gene expression,” Rosetta Green began exploring the potential of manipulating the small RNAs in this field, “thinking we have a special edge here.”
Rosetta said that Rosetta Green has already performed studies linking the expression of certain miRNAs with oil content in algae, as well as oil and starch content in corn. But the unit isn’t limiting itself to biofuels, Maor stressed, noting that Rosetta Green is currently conducting proof-of-concept experiments in a variety of undisclosed areas.
“Some of the [proof-of-concept projects] are at different levels of progress, and [for] some aspects we already have some forms of proof of concept,” Maor said. “The idea is to identify potential microRNAs of interest” in numerous fields including biofuels and bio-agriculture.
Despite its broad focus, Maor said that Rosetta Green’s later efforts will largely be defined by the needs of collaborators.
“Our focus is microRNAs,” he said. “We don’t see ourselves as a seed company, for example, [and] we are not going to start having large fields of crops. The idea is to start [different projects] in-house, get the initial results … and then work … with any [number of] companies.”
He declined say whether Rosetta Green is already in talks with potential partners or if it has already forged any deals.
According to Rosetta, Rosetta Green is being funded with $1.5 million in cash from undisclosed private investors. The money will be made available in tranches as certain undisclosed milestones are achieved.
Currently, the unit has five dedicated employees, including Maor, and is located within Rosetta’s facilities in Israel. Maor noted that although Rosetta Green is expected to ultimately move into its own space, operating within Rosetta allows the startup to benefit from its parent’s existing infrastructure and employees, who have been providing support.