Plastomics: addressing food insecurity with better crops Silicon Priairie News July 8, 2019

Ag biotech startup, Plastomics, based out of St. Louis, Missouri raised $2.03 million in funding on May 8 to further develop its novel genetic engineering platform.

The funding was provided by Missouri-based venture development organization BioGenerator.
BioGenerator is an evergreen investor that had previously provided seed funding for Plastomics in 2017.

Jeff Staub, PhD., co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Plastomics, launched the company in December 2016 to further the development of the plant plastid transformation technology he co-invented which could facilitate the production of high-yielding, hardier crops essential to the food requirements of a rapidly expanding human population. Dr. Staub earned his Ph.D. at Rutgers University in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. He subsequently held a post-doctoral position at Yale University after which he worked as a Scientific Fellow at Monsanto Company before starting Plastomics.

Fellow co-founder, Ralph Bock, Ph.D., is the current Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for Plastomics and is also the Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Pottsdam, Germany.

The company has developed a unique Chloroplast Transformation Technology (CTT) platform that involves manipulating the DNA in chloroplasts instead of in the nucleus of plant cells. This ensures that the inheritance of desirable traits is through the seed and not through plant pollen. The chloroplasts are the structure inside the cell where photosynthesis – the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water – takes place.

The select genes for these desirable traits are typically introduced into the nuclear DNA through a complex process that takes a good deal of time to develop and test. Multiple chloroplasts exist in plant cells while there is only one nucleus; thus, CTT multiple genes can be introduced into the plant cell at a time. This approach simplifies the breeding process, reduces the time and cost of seed development, and eliminates the risks associated with introducing genetic traits through pollen – including the risk of contaminating neighboring fields. The CTT platform will enable the agriculture industry to better address the current challenges of pest resistance, herbicide resistance, water stress, climate variability and trait stacking.

“Our platform will make better, safer, and more effective crops for the future,” said Plastomics’ CEO, Sharon Berberich in a prior press release. “Once it is applied across major food crops, our technology will ultimately help solve the problem of feeding humankind.”

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