Synthetic Genomics Spins Out Another Startup, Agradis, Focused on Agricultural Biotechnology

10/24/11Follow @bvbigelow

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try and help replace chemicals and fertilizers to promote plant growth and disease control, so it’s really trying to get to a much more natural, green way of producing things without having to use [petrochemical-based] fertilizers,” Venter says.

The second part, which is focused initially on castor, is intended to produce fuels, lubricants, cosmetics, and polymers from castor seed oil, Venter says. “We will be trying to make direct genetic modifications and we’ll be trying to make genetic enhancements without making GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. So it will be taking both approaches, breeding approaches, but marker-selected breeding because we have the genomic data.”

Agradis anticipates that its advances will lead to higher yields, lower production costs, and a more reliable supply of raw material, according to a statement issued today. The company says castor also could become an economically viable biofuel feedstock.

Sweet sorghum is a type of grass with high sugar content, which makes it an attractive raw material for producing biofuels, the company says. Because of sorghum’s high drought tolerance, short growth cycle, and efficient use of nutrients, Agradis also plans to sell advanced varieties of sweet sorghum to emerging markets for biofuels. In addition to a number of U.S. field trials, Venter says Agradis also is working with its Mexican partners to explore agricultural opportunities in Mexico. In each case, Venter says the company intends to target its production for land that’s unsuitable for food crops.

Venter acknowledges longtime concerns over genetically modified crops, but says GMO issues have been focused mostly on food crops “and I think that’s a dying issue around the world.”

In any event, Venter emphasizes that the technology under development at Agradis is a necessary response to the over-arching issue of global warming as well as the rising demands of the Earth’s ever-increasing population.

“We have to do something to change how we produce food and fuels,” Venter says. “In three days we pass the 7 billion mark of people on this planet. In 12 years, we’ll be adding another billion. So we need to find sustainable ways to produce food and chemicals to deal with this ever-increasing population as well as the problems of what oil-based chemicals negatively do to the environment in terms of constantly increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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