British agri-tech startup Tropic Biosciences has raised $35 million in new funding in its effort to pioneer gene-editing technology that protects crops such as coffee, bananas and rice from disease.
The Norwich-based startup, led by former Israeli Navy chief Gilad Gershon, is harnessing the power of CRISPR gene-editing technology through its own platform to address the food security challenge facing tropical crops.
Such crops are a vital source of food and income for emerging economies, with bananas being the world’s most consumed fruit, for example.
However, many face a growing number of existential challenges threatening their future, whether biological in the form of fungal-borne Panama disease that afflicts banana plants, or environmental in the form of the effects of climate change on agricultural crops.
For Gershon, tackling food security has been a major part of his startup’s focus, and something he’s seen gaining more attention since 2020 as supply chain crises as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and energy price hikes in 2022 put pressure on food producers.
He sees gene editing as a critical way to address the impact of these significant challenges on tropical crops in particular, as gene editing can be scaled up as easily as programs versus other solutions that include chemicals, for example, and have fewer side effects.
“The genes allow you to offset the use of chemicals, so instead of using fungicides, you have bananas or rice that are inherently resistant to the fungi,” he said. “Reducing the use of chemicals has a positive benefit to the environment and biodiversity.”
Tropic Biosciences, which first applied its technology to bananas and coffee, began studying rice in 2020 to address methane emissions from aerobic digestion in rice fields that make rice a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas pollution.
According to Gershon, although there is not a single disease that would cause rice “Armageddon,” there are diseases like rice blast that look to treat it, finding ways to increase rice yields at a time when wheat prices are rising and demand for rice rises.
Its technology can be used to cut pieces of DNA sequences that code for traits that make crops more susceptible to disease or can lead to other undesirable traits.
The startup raised funds in a round led by Zurich-based Blue Horizon, with additional funds coming from venture capital investors including ADQ, Skyviews Life Science, Bloom8, Tekfen Ventures and Sucden Ventures.
Gershon said the team, which has grown from about 50 people in 2020 to more than 120 people today, remained well-funded after the second round of Series B in 2020, but saw an opportunity to work with Blue Horizon and raise new money as it wrapped up most of its series. landmarks b.