Synthetic Genomics enters biofuel feedstock market

| November 03, 2011

Craig Venter, chairman and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc. is back in the news, but this time it has nothing to do with ExxonMobil’s algae partnership with SGI. Venter and his company have teamed up with Plenus S.A. de C.V, a Mexico-based investing and management company in the agribusiness sector, to form a new company that will focus on “developing and commercializing products to sustainably improve crop production efficiency using new advances in genomics and plant breeding.”

The newly formed company, Agradis Inc., will use a round of Series A financing totaling $20 million to form the infrastructure and expanded team to research and develop better breeds of castor and sweet sorghum, which the company said has ideal characteristics because they are high-yielding crops that can be grown on land not currently used for food production, and they have great potential for yield improvements using genomic techniques.

Through their work with castor and sweet sorghum, the newly formed agribusiness company will focus on producing superior crops based on genomics and developing plants that feature better crop protection mechanisms as well as growth enhancing products based from plant-associated microorganisms. Agradis has licensed a library of more than 150 categories of microbes associated with grass plants from SGI, and according to Agradis, the company has produced “many promising biochemical and plant based assays for several desirable activities such as inhibition of wheat scab and microorganisms that increase yields.” The main market advantage the newly formed company has, Agradis pointed out, is that many of these microbes have not previously been linked to plant health or disease.

“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,” Venter said of the new company. “We also had a vision that these plants could be successfully developed as new feedstock for biofuels.”

The combination of SGI’s ability to formulate better plant breeds and the ability of Plenus to help those efforts reach commercial level makes Agradis uniquely positioned, according to Alfonso Romo, co-founder and chairman of Agradis and Plenus. “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.”

Agradis’ work with castor will help make the plant a viable biofuel feedstock, according to the company. As for sweet sorghum, the company believes its ability to enhance a crop with high sucrose levels, high drought tolerance, short growth cycle and efficient use of nutrients, makes its choice worth the efforts. The company has plans to eventually sell enhanced varieties of sweet sorghum for use in biofuels markets.