Synthetic Genomics Spins Out Another Startup, Agradis, Focused on Agricultural Biotechnology

After spinning out a startup last year to develop next-generation vaccines, San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics says today it has joined forces with a Mexican investor to form Agradis, an agricultural biotech that will seek to commercialize its advances in plant breeding and genomics.

With $20 million in Series A financing, Agradis is intended to accelerate the advances Synthetic Genomics has made with bacteria and other microbes that provide nutrients and disease resistance for the root systems of plants. Alfonso Romo, the Mexican businessman and investor who was Synthetic Genomics’ initial lead investor, is a co-founder of the startup, along with J. Craig Venter, the genomics pioneer and chairman and CEO of Synthetic Genomics.

“We’ve been having these discussions for a very long time,” Venter told me this morning. “With the success in finding the microbes, we decided to put all the discussions together.”

Synthetic Genomics (SGI) has amassed a huge collection of these microbes and has been screening and characterizing their activity, Venter explains. The benefits can be conveyed to plants by simply coating the seed with the microbes, he says, and a number of field trials are underway in the United States.

“The reason we’re doing this as a spinout instead of keeping it at SGI [is that] with all the different areas that we’re working in, this allows the investors to invest just in the agricultural portion,” says Venter. “As you saw last year, we spun out the vaccine company. We have so much diversity because our technology works in so many spaces.”

Agradis investors include Plenus, Romo’s investment and operating company, Synthetic Genomics itself, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, among others. Synthetic Genomics has focused mostly on developing algae-based biofuels and bio-based chemicals since the company was founded. It has been working with Exxon Mobile to make a biological substitute for petroleum-based crude oil, with BP on ways to use microbes to alter fuel processes, and with Novartis and others to advance the rapid development of new vaccines.

The goal for Agradis is twofold: to produce superior castor, sorghum, and other cash crops through genomic advances and to develop plant-associated microbes in ways that can protect and foster plant growth. The startup has licensed extensive germplasm collections, breeding programs, and plant cultivars from Plenus, and genomics expertise from Synthetic Genomics.

“The first part of this is using microbes to … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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