The American genomics-based drug company Exelixis Plant Sciences (EPS), a subsidiary of Exelixis, Inc. has received a National Science Foundation award to develop technologies to identify novel genes in rice, with the aim of improving its production. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award will fund work to identify the genes that make rice resistant to stress and disease, in expectation of making rice more productive in parts of the world where a large segment of the population depends on the crop for much of its food supply. The research funds from the award will support EPS in the application of its proprietary (ACTTAG™) gene activation technology to the identification of targeted traits in rice. ACTTAG™ technology is a method of locating genes responsible for "turning on" and "turning off" physical characteristics of a plant. EPS is working with Aventis CropScience, through the joint venture Agrinomics, to develop and commercialise novel genes using the ACTTAG™ technology in the plant species arabidopsis thaliana. Rice is the main source of food for about half the world's population. But in many of the areas where those populations live, stress and disease threaten crop production and the livelihood of those who depend on it. Scientists at EPS want to identify components now locked inside the rice genome, which, they hope, will lead to improvements in crop yield and productivity. Those improvements could have an immediate impact on a global scale. Because rice is a rapidly growing cereal crop and has a simple genome, it provides an excellent model genetic system for other major cereal crops. The findings made under the SBIR award may therefore benefit the study of other major food crops, such as corn and wheat, as well. "We have already been successful in our other functional genomics efforts in plants. This new technology brings rapid gene discovery directly to a crop of significant worldwide value. Coupled with our product development expertise in plants, it brings Exelixis much closer to our goal of making significant improvements in major crop species and crop protection methods," said George A. Scangos, Ph.D., Exelixis president and chief executive officer.