Agri-TechE’s REAP conference took place on November 8th 2022 to review how the meeting of real and virtual worlds is creating a new generation of technologies that are ‘making sense of agriculture’ and that can provide the intelligence needed to take the best action on-farm. Every year Agri-Tech E handpicks some of the most exciting early-stage agri-tech companies to take part in the REAP Start-up Showcase.
This year’s Start-up Showcase included FOLIUM Science’s carve out investment opportunity FLOURISH, a new type of crop protection and seed treatment that will improve yields and boost productivity.
FLOURISH makes ‘bad’ bacteria self-destruct to create a healthy microbiome
Bacterial crop diseases cause devasting losses. Some are controlled by antibiotics, which results in damage to beneficial organisms in the microbiome and the risk of resistance. FLOURISH offers an alternative plant protection strategy. By disrupting the metabolism of the pathogen, it enables natural competition to create a healthy growing environment, which boosts yield.
Ed Fuchs is a Co-founder of FLOURISH, a carve-out from FOLIUM Science, which has developed a Guided Biotics® technology for animal health and now has a number of product candidates ready for commercialisation via multinational feed additives distributors, following successful safety assessments by regulators.
Ed comments: “Plants extract nutrition from their environment using complex interactions with microorganisms in the soil. The importance of this microbiome is increasingly recognised in human and animal health.
“Our technology uses either bacteria or phages (virus particles) that are highly selective for a particular type of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas, to share a specific DNA sequence with the target that redirects its immune system, causing the pathogen to self-destruct. As the sequence is very specific and targeted to the particular bacteria it will not damage organisms that are vital for plant growth. This process therefore gives the beneficial organisms a competitive advantage.”
In trials with tomatoes the use of Guided Biotics® was shown to reduce Pseudomonas syringae and Botrytis cinerea by more than 99.9% and double the weight of the tomato yield.
Ed explains:“Our first product candidate uses an epiphyte (a naturally occurring bacteria from the tomato plant), to share the DNA sequence which gets rid of the Pseudomonas Syringae. The epiphyte also naturally produces molecules to remove Botrytis (fungus) and the combination enables the yield improvement.”
Over 12 million hectares of tomatoes are grown globally and they are at risk of bacterial canker which is caused by Pseudomonas syringae. Canker is also a serious disease of stone fruits such as cherries and peaches, showing the technology has a significant global market across many disease targets.
The use of phage particles is already regarded as safe by major territories and is being increasingly used in diagnostics and medication. The ‘reprogramming’ uses the gene editing technology CRISPR, which is recognised as distinct from genetic modification as it does not introduce alien DNA into the organism. Regulatory reform already underway is likely to support the wider use of this technology.
Ed continues: “FOLIUM has benefited from funding and due diligence from Innovate UK; with the necessary funding it has the potential to be spun-out as a plant-focussed company addressing a global crop protection market valued at £50bn.
“FOLIUM benefited greatly from the profile gained at the REAP 2018 Start-Up Showcase and I hope to repeat this success with FLOURISH.”
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, comments: “Antibiotic resistance is a global ‘One Health’ problem and FLOURISH is offering an innovative alternative. I am sure that it will attract significant interest from the agri-tech innovation ecosystem. REAP has provided profile for many exciting early-stage businesses with collaborators, end users and investors. 14 of the companies previously featured have collectively raised over £92 Million in the last three years.”