Puna Bio Raises $3.7M For Soybean, Corn, and Wheat Seed Treatments from Extremophiles
For 20 years Puna Bio’s team has studied and made discoveries in the Puna de Atacama of the Andes - the highest altitude desert at 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) above sea level. The highest and driest desert on Earth, “La Puna” receives only one-fifth the rainfall of Death Valley, and is home to active volcanoes, salt flats, saline wetlands, and desert soil.
But despite some of the harshest conditions in the world including degraded, acidic, UV-irradiated and salinated soils, there are organisms native to the desert for 3.5 billion years now that are not only surviving, but are thriving.
"By looking at the genomics of the bacteria from this harsh environment – which resembles primitive Earth, or even Mars – we were able to understand how specific genes generate processes that allow plants to overcome stress conditions," said María Eugenia Farías, co-founder and CRO, Puna Bio, who has studied La Puna for 20 years and published over 100 research papers on the topic.
"Those properties can then be applied to food crops, to help them grow in similar environments with a lack of nutrients, drought conditions, drastic temperature changes and high UV radiation, which are all of the challenges we are seeing today."
In only a few decades, Puna Bio stated that agricultural production has increased three-fold, with irrigated land doubling to meet food demand, which is forecast to increase by another 70 percent by 2050. Under such pressure, one-third of the world’s agricultural land is now considered “degraded” due to over-plowing, intense use of fertilizers, pollution, and erosion, which is occurring at a rate that is 100 times faster than soil creation, according to the UN.
"Without bold innovation, we will soon run out of healthy arable soil sufficient to feed the planet," said Franco Martínez Levis, CEO and co-founder, Puna Bio. "Puna Bio's seed treatment repairs and restores soil health with these proprietary extremophiles; we've seen yield increases of up to 25 percent in individual trials in high stress conditions."
To advance this work, Puna Bio announced it has closed on an oversubscribed $3.7 million Seed round led by At One Ventures and Builders VC, with participation from Brazil’s SP Ventures and Air Capital. Follow-on investments also came from pre-seed funders IndieBio (SOSV), GLOCAL, and Grid Exponential.
With this capital the company stated it will commercially launch its first soybean seed treatment in Argentina at a competitive cost to existing biological solutions. It also will expand its R&D team and continue field trials for wheat and corn (both crops that use very little biological treatments and are more reliant on agrochemicals), and pursue regulatory channels into the U.S. and Brazilian markets.
The team has already isolated specific strains of extremophiles that reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer by about 20 percent, and is conducting field trials with new strains that have the potential to increase that number to 30 percent.
"But the magic of these microbes extends beyond just land that is suffering," he added. "Like an athlete who trains at high altitudes, at sea level they will outperform. On regular land, with fertile soil, the seed treatment boost yields on average 9-13 percent – that's 3-4X more than the biologicals that the big players in this market are offering. Also, our 'win rate' is over 90 percent, compared to the 67 percent of our competitors, meaning the results are more consistent and the ROI to the farmer is clear."
"Scientists are working hard on GMOs like drought-tolerant soy and wheat, and we saw Puna Bio as a complement to those efforts," noted Laurie Menoud, founding partner, At One Ventures.
"The problem of feeding our growing population is massive, so it's not an either-or. We need both genetics and biologicals (on cost parity to agrochemicals) to work together to elevate production levels without affecting natural resources while ensuring long-term sustainability of the agricultural business."
The company has scaled to more than 20,000 acres of coverage for soybeans in Latin America using both single strain and mixed strain products, and has obtained an exclusive license from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina for the global use of strains for 20 years, in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol.
"Puna Bio, at scale, could be one of the most important mitigators of the effects of climate change on our food stock," said Mark Goldstein, managing partner, Builders VC. "It's an exciting journey to be part of and we're looking forward to seeing Puna Bio truly impact the marketplace."
~ Lynda Kiernan-Stone is editor in chief with GAI Media, and is managing editor and daily contributor for Global AgInvesting’s AgInvesting Weekly News and Agtech Intel News, as well as HighQuest Group’s Unconventional Ag. She can be reached at email@example.com.
*The content put forth by Global AgInvesting News and its parent company HighQuest Partners is intended to be used and must be used for informational purposes only. All information or other material herein is not to be construed as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. Global AgInvesting and HighQuest Partners are not a fiduciary in any manner, and the reader assumes the sole responsibility of evaluating the merits and risks associated with the use of any information or other content on this site.