Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), a privately held company developing and applying genomic-driven commercial solutions to a variety of markets including biofuels, biochemicals, and new bio-based food products, and Plenus, S.A. de C.V., a Mexico based investing and management company with extensive experience in a variety of business areas including agribusiness, have announced the formation of a new company, Agradis.
The privately held agricultural biotechnology company will focus on developing and commercializing products to sustainably improve crop production efficiency using new advances in genomics and plant breeding.
Agradis has 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 has an experienced management team that includes chief executive officer Alejandro Rodriguez, an agribusiness development leader. Rodriguez has decades of experience in successfully commercializing agricultural products and advancing crop production technologies having worked at and with some of the top agriculture companies in the United States and Mexico.
The company has also hired Tom Christensen as president. Christensen's background melds agricultural product development, business development leadership and advanced farming technologies.
Increasing world populations are leading to greater need for new and improved food crops. There is also an increased demand for new and improved, non-food biofuel feedstock crops. The challenge is how to meet these needs in an environmentally sustainable way. Agradis is combining the cutting edge science and technology platforms of SGI with the agricultural business commercialization expertise of Plenus to solve some of these societal issues.
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 that Agradis will concentrate on are castor and sweet sorghum. These are ideal candidates 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 decades of 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. They are much 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," said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Chairman of Agradis, Chairman and CEO, SGI.
"Agradis is uniquely positioned in the agribusiness marketplace since it combines the unique plant breeding and commercialization strengths of Plenus with the genomic technological expertise of SGI. We believe this winning combination establishes Agradis' leadership position in developing new alternative energy through advanced crops, as well as novel microbial-based plant promoters," said Alfonso Romo, Co-Founder and Chairman of Agradis, Chairman and CEO, Plenus, S.A. de C.V.