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Synthetic Genomics, Plenus Form New Company to Leverage Genomics for Agricultural Applications

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Synthetic Genomics and Plenus today announced the formation of a new firm, Agradis, to develop and commercialize products that leverage new technologies in genomics and plant breeding.

The companies also announced Agradis has raised $20 million in a Series A financing round to establish a corporate infrastructure and to support product development and commercialization.

Privately held Agradis will target its products to "sustainably improve crop production efficiency," said SGI and Plenus, an investing and management firm headquartered in Mexico.

The initial focus of Agradis, based in San Diego, is on producing superior crops using advances in genomics, and on developing products for crop protection and plant growth enhancement using microorganisms. The company is concentrating now on castor and sweet sorghum, which it said are "ideal candidates because they are high yielding crops that can be grown on land not currently used for food production and have great potential for yield improvement using genomic technologies."

Castor seed is used in lubricants, cosmetics, and biopolymers, and Agradis seeks to develop and sell better hybrid castor seeds to these markets "enabling higher yields, lower production costs, and increased security of supply." It also will sell enhanced varieties of sweet sorghum to the biofuels space.

Agradis also plans on developing microbial-based plant growth promoters and crop protection products. Efforts in this area will initially target corn and wheat applications, which it said offer multi-billion dollar markets globally.

Agradis has licensed the germplasm collections, breeding programs, and cultivars developed at Plenus, and a comprehensive library and proprietary screening tools for more than 150 categories of microbes associated with grass plants from SGI.

The company said it is currently developing "promising" biochemical and plant-based assays for "several desirable activities such as 'wheat scab' and microorganisms that increase yield."

Craig Venter, chairman and CEO of SGI, and now co-founder and chairman of Agradis, said in a statement, "Building on the decades of breakthroughs in microbial and plant genomic sequencing and analysis, SGI was founded with the notion that these new insights could help us develop higher yielding and more environmentally sustainable crops. We also had a vision that these plants could be successfully developed as new feedstocks for biofuels.

"Through the formation of Agradis with Plenus we now have the potential to realize these goals," he said.

Alejandro Rodriguez was named Agradis' CEO and Tom Christensen was hired as its president.

Rodriguez has decades of experience commercializing agricultural products and advancing crop production technologies, SGI and Plenus said. Christensen's background "melds agricultural product development, business development leadership, and advanced farming technologies."

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