AgBiome Awarded Grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Multi-year Grant Focused on Biological Solutions in Sweetpotatoes

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., July 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — AgBiome, LLC, a leader in the development of microbial solutions for agriculture, has been awarded a multi-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discover biological insect control for deployment to smallholder farmers in African nations. The project, entitled RSM Systems Biology for Sweetpotato: Engineering the African Root/Soil/Microbiome for Enhanced Crop Productivity, aims to discover beneficial microbes with the ability to control sweetpotato weevils.

Sweetpotatoes are a key dietary staple and supplemental food crop in sub-Saharan Africa, where they are primarily grown by poor smallholder farmers. Orange-fleshed varieties provide an important source of Vitamin A, a nutrient critical in preventing blindness and immune system weakness. The sweetpotato weevil is the crop’s most serious insect pest, causing losses of 60-100 percent if left untreated. To date, there are no viable control methods for the weevil in Africa. Biological control is an attractive solution, generally affording low- or no-exposure risk and potentially offering season-long control through inoculation of host plants.

The project will be led by AgBiome entomologists, Drs. Brooke Bissinger and Chad Keyser, and will occur in partnership with the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Davis at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.

“We are extremely excited to use AgBiome’s technology to benefit smallholder farmers in Africa,” says Bissinger. “Sweetpotato’s importance in sub-Saharan Africa was highlighted this year with the World Food Prize going to four researchers who developed and promoted Vitamin-A fortified sweetpotatoes. It is an honor to be able to contribute to the protection and sustainability of this valuable crop.”

AgBiome has already established a diverse collection of plant-associated microbes and has fully sequenced and annotated the genomes for greater than 26,000 microbial strains. The grant will support the isolation, sequencing, and testing of microbes associated with U.S. and African sweetpotato plants in an effort to discover microbes that are capable of controlling the weevil.

“This is such an incredible opportunity for us at AgBiome,” says Keyser. “The scope of this project is so much more than pest control or increasing yields. We’ve been given the opportunity to make a real impact on the health and livelihood of millions of people.”

About AgBiome

AgBiome discovers and develops innovative biological and trait products for crop protection. Their proprietary Genesis™ discovery platform comprises the world’s largest, most diverse, fully-sequenced collection of microbes, coupled to industry-best screens for insect, disease and nematode control. Better microbes. Better crops. Better world.

Link to press release here.

Reviewing NC’s top life science stories in 2015: $500M-plus in funding

North Carolina’s life science community saw it all in 2015: billion-dollar deals, expansions, relocations, acquisitions, venture capital funding, an IPO, government grants, global accolades, a new pharmacy school and even two Nobel Prizes.Companies also raised a great deal of capital.

Life science companies across North Carolina raised some $500 million in public and private financing in 2015.

Agricultural-focused startups are blossoming in the Triangle

North Carolina, and the Triangle in particular, has quietly blossomed into a hotbed of startups that are applying cutting-edge technology to agriculture.

The state is home to at least 50 entrepreneurial agricultural technology companies, with 28 of those companies based in the Triangle, according to data compiled by the nonprofitCouncil for Entrepreneurial Development.

“I think when people think about ag biotech and ag biotech startups, they think about really three geographies: here in North Carolina, St. Louis, Mo., and UC-Davis near Sacramento, Calif.,” said Scott Johnson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at the state-fundedN.C. Biotechnology Center.

Comparing the size of these startup clusters, Johnson added, is problematic “because everybody talks about ag biotech with a little bit different definition.”

Indeed, CED talks about ag tech companies while the Biotech Center focuses on ag biotech companies, which it defines as applying the tools of biotechnology “to crops, livestock, forestry and marine life to produce more food, fuels, fiber and goods.”

Whichever way you cut it, the Triangle’s crop of entrepreneurial companies in this sector runs the gamut from A to Z – AgBiome to Zoion Pharma.

AgBiome, in collaboration with world-class researchers, publishes policy paper concerning the importance of agriculture microbiome research

A policy paper published today in the journal Science highlights the importance of applying microbiome research to address critical issues in agriculture and other areas.  AgBiome founder and Scientific advisory board member Jeff Dangl and AgBiome scientist James Henriksen joined 46 prominent researchers in the Unified Microbiome Initiative as authors. 
Alivisatos et al. 2015. “A Unified Initiative to Harness Earth’s Microbiomes.” Science, October, aac8480. doi:10.1126/science.aac8480.
Other press about the UMI paper: