Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks have put US$100 million toward the new venture aimed at developing sustainable and efficient crop fertilisers.
The new company will focus on the plant microbiome. Improving the microbes’ ability to make nitrogen fertiliser available for plants, offers a major potential benefit to sustainable agriculture, says a Bayer announcement.
The venture will be located in Boston and West Sacramento, California, the location of Bayer’s R&D activities around plant biologics.
Bayer explains how some crops like soybeans, pea and other legumes can pair with specific microbes that live within the plant and fulfil their nitrogen needs. However, most other crops cannot.
Nitrogen fertiliser is essential for modern agriculture, it says, but is a major environmental concern driving greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. It can also be expensive for growers.
Producing nitrogen fertiliser directly in the plant
“The endophytic microbes to be developed by the company aim to provide a platform to flexibly deliver new agronomic advantages. This is expected to have a profound positive benefit to growers, agriculture and society alike,” says the announcement.
In addition to the initial US$100 million Series A investment by Bayer, Ginkgo, and Viking Global Investors LP, Ginkgo will provide exclusive access to its technology, laboratory and office spaces, and will build a new facility.
Meanwhile, Bayer will provide exclusive access to proprietary microbial strains and all necessary development know-how.
Biotech “veteran”, Dr. Mike Miille, is to be named interim CEO of the new company.
He is the former CEO of AgraQuest and current vice president strategy and business management biologics at Crop Science, a division of Bayer.
The Board of Directors will be composed of two representatives from Ginkgo Bioworks – Dr. Jason Kelly and Dr. Reshma Shetty – and two representatives from Bayer – Dr. Axel Bouchon and Dr. Juergen Eckhardt.
“Biology is changing industries as diverse as flavor and fragrance to consumer electronics. Agriculture is the original biological technology, and the more we can learn to work with the soil microbiome, the more we can discover new ways to add value to farmers and return to its biological, and more sustainable, roots,” said Jason Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Bayer to bring this transformational aspiration to life.”
The closing of the transaction is subject to usual conditions.
“The plant microbiome is one of the next frontiers in sustainable agriculture,” said Axel Bouchon, head of the Bayer Life Science Center. “And it may enable us to take a major leap in plant physiology: producing nitrogen fertiliser directly in the plant.
“We are excited to combine state-of-the-art plant science and leading microbial technology to help tackle this challenge. With Ginkgo we have found the best-in-class partner to achieve this fundamental breakthrough.”