Joyn Bio, a biotech company developing microbes engineered for agricultural applications, is adding microbes from NewLeaf Symbiotics to its toolbox in an effort to get to market faster and expand the scope of its research.
The partnership announced Monday gives Joyn access to NewLeaf’s library of plant-colonizing microbes. Joyn, which is based in Boston and also has operations in Woodland, CA, will engineer these microbes to make disease and pest control products intended to help farmers reduce their reliance on crop chemicals. In the nearer term, the deal is expected to bolster Joyn’s research and development of nitrogen-fixing microbes. The companies estimate the alliance could reduce the time to market for these new microbes by two to three years.
Joyn was formed in 2017 as a joint venture between Bayer and Boston synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks. The company’s lead program is developing microbes for nitrogen fixation, the process in which nitrogen from the air is converted into a form that plants can use for photosynthesis. A nitrogen-fixation product based on microbes could reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizers that farmers apply to their fields, which in turn would reduce the environmental impacts of fertilizer runoff.
The deal terms give Joyn an exclusive license to use certain NewLeaf microbes to develop products for a range of plant applications. NewLeaf will receive an upfront payment, plus milestone payments. Joyn and NewLeaf did not disclose the duration of the alliance, nor any of the financial terms, other than to say that the long-term pact is valued at up to $75 million. The companies also did not specify which crops or agricultural applications they would pursue under the alliance, other than Joyn’s existing nitrogen-fixation R&D.
The research of St. Louis-based NewLeaf focuses on a class of microbes called methylotrophs, or M-trophs. These microbes have been studied for their role in increasing plant growth and root mass and boosting nutrient uptake, among other agricultural benefits. NewLeaf says its technology uses machine-learning techniques to analyze data and predict the performance of M-trophs from the company’s library of microbes. The company is currently developing M-troph-based products for a wide variety of crops including soybeans, corn, tomatoes, and wheat.
Joyn and NewLeaf plan to say more about their new partnership Monday afternoon at the AgTech Nexus conference in Chicago.