By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology, HEC-TV | March 5, 2023
A novel technology is designed to deliver beneficial plant traits for insect and disease resistance into major crops, starting with soybeans and corn. Plastomics, Inc. is helping to develop higher performing seeds for the agriculture sector via their novel chloroplast trait delivery platform,
“We’re working with some larger biotech companies to bring our traits to market,” said Jeffrey M. Staub, PhD, Chief Scientist and Founder of Plastomics.
Plastomics is an AgTech startup in BioGenerator Labs with greenhouse space at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. This is where company is developing innovative technology to deliver traits into the chloroplast of cells.
“The traditional way of introducing traits into plant cells is by modifying the nuclear chromosomes. Our process is much more efficient than the older way of doing things in the nucleus,” said Staub. “Because chloroplasts are present in many copies in every cell. Our traits are expressed at a very high level which gives a lot of efficacy of those traits in the plants. “
The chloroplast derives energy from the sun during the process of photosynthesis, enabling higher expression of Plastomics’ traits, increasing their beneficial properties.
“Chloroplasts are the site of photosynthesis in plant cells. And so, they are the energy producer of the cell. The chloroplast genome is specialized for only a few metabolic processes whereas the nucleus is very busy doing lots and lots of things. So, there’s room in the chloroplast to introduce these new traits and have them expressed at a highly efficacious level, both better and faster. “
Plastomics’ goal is to create crops that can better withstand the pressure of insects, diseases and weeds while delivering higher yields.
“We’re introducing traits from other plant species and from bacteria. These include things like tolerance or resistance to insects or diseases that affect plants,” said Staub.
And chloroplasts are maternally inherited so they’re not present in pollen. This means transgenes can never escape into the environment, ending up in a neighbor’s field and taken up by a non-biotech crop, which is known as pollen outcrossing. Staub said that wouldn’t be possible.
“Chloroplasts are inherited only through the mother plant and so all of the offspring have the trait and breeding of those traits is much faster than the other approaches using the nucleus,” said Staub.
Plastomics is experiencing early-stage success. In late 2022, Plastomics completed a $7.1 million Series A funding round. The financing was led by Lewis & Clark AgriFood, a St. Louis-based food and agriculture focused investment firm, with co-investors Fulcrum Global Capital, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, QRM Capital, iiM, and CIG Spectrum. Existing investors iSelect, Missouri Technology Corporation, The Yield Lab, BioGenerator, and Centennial Investors also participated in this round. This follows a Series Seed follow-on round led earlier this year by BioGenerator with co-investor The Yield Lab.
“Plastomics is working with multiple companies on developing traits like resistance to insects. Insects have become a very big problem over the last several years because of things like climate change and insects evolving resistance to chemistries and other products out there that control them,” said Staub. “Plant diseases also caused by things like climate change are a big problem. Plastomics sources its traits from a variety of places, including other plant species, bacteria or other organisms that have the genes that give resistance to those insects or diseases.”