Synthetic Genomics Inc. and Plenus, S.A. de C.V. form agricultural biotech company Agradis, Inc.; focus on new and improved biofuel feedstock crops and food crops
Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) and Plenus, S.A. de C.V., a Mexico-based investing and management company, are forming a new agricultural biotechnology company, Agradis. Agradis will focus on developing and commercializing products to sustainably improve crop production efficiency using genomics and plant breeding. Agradis also announced the closing of a $20-million Series A financing round which will be used to establish the company infrastructure and to support product development and commercialization.
Agradis will combine the science and technology platforms of SGI with the agricultural business commercialization expertise of Plenus to deliver new and improved non-food biofuel feedstock crops and food crops. Agradis is initially focusing on two key areas: producing superior crops through advances in genomics and developing crop protection and plant growth enhancing products using beneficial, plant-associated microorganisms.
The first two crops of focus are castor and sweet sorghum. These are of interest because they are high yielding crops that can be grown on land not currently used for food production and have great potential for yield improvement using genomic technologies. Agradis has licensed the extensive germplasm collections, breeding programs, and cultivars developed by the experts at Plenus, and genomics expertise from SGI.
Castor seed oil is currently used in lubricants, cosmetics and biopolymers. Agradis will develop and sell superior hybrid castor seeds for these markets enabling higher yields, lower production costs, and increased security of supply. With these advances Agradis anticipates that castor could soon become an economically viable biofuel feedstock.
Sweet sorghum is a member of the grass family that produces stems with high sucrose levels making it a competitive feedstock in the biofuels market. Sorghum’s high drought tolerance, short growth cycle, and more efficient use of nutrients and water make it an attractive potential feedstock for biofuel production. Agradis will also sell enhanced varieties of sweet sorghum for the biofuels markets.
Building on the microbial genomics expertise and advances in synthetic genomics technologies by SGI founders and scientists, Agradis will also develop microbial-based plant growth promoters and crop protection products. Initially the company will focus these efforts on the corn and wheat applications which represent multi-billion dollar markets worldwide.
Biologically based crop protection and growth enhancing products offer many advantages to traditional chemical fertilizers and pesticides, SGI says, claiming that they are more environmentally friendly, offer improved ways for crops to utilize more nutrients from their environments reducing the need for fertilizers, enhance the plants’ ability to resist pests, and more effectively fight plant diseases.
Agradis has licensed from SGI a comprehensive library and proprietary screening tools for more than 150 categories of microbes associated with grass plants. The team is currently producing many promising biochemical and plant based assays for several desirable activities such as inhibition of “wheat scab” and microorganisms that increase yield. Many of these microbes have not previously been associated with plant health or disease and thus offer a unique market advantage.
Building on the decades of breakthroughs in microbial and plant genomic sequencing and analysis SGI was founded with the notion that these new insights could help us develop higher yielding and more environmentally sustainable crops. We also had a vision that these plants could be successfully developed as new feedstocks for biofuels. Through the formation of Agradis with Plenus we now have the potential to realize these goals.—J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Chairman of Agradis, Chairman and CEO, SGI
(A hat-tip to Matt!)