by Vic Singh
At Eniac, we are big believers in the future of sustainable agriculture with existing bets that include Vence (regenerative agriculture for cattle) and Iron Ox (AI autonomous farming). As the climate crisis looms, we’ve looked closely at how computational genomics can be leveraged to reduce food waste and bring higher quality diverse produce to market. Our investment in Phytoform sits at the intersection of our work in sustainability and agriculture, along with our long-time interest in genomics. Phytoform is Eniac’s first bet in computational biology, and we look forward to more investments in the category.
AI Genome Editing Platform
Experts forecast that food production must be increased by over 70% in the next 35 years to feed the growing global population. Contemporary agriculture will face enormous challenges attempting to close that gap, exacerbated by degradation from climate change and biodiversity loss. To accomplish this, we will need crops with higher yields, improved nutritional quality, and lower growing requirements.
Phytoform’s solution enables discovery and implementation of new plant varieties in a way that mimics natural breeding, allowing them to create non-GMO varieties that are safer, cheaper, and more effective with faster commercialization than others on the market. Phytoform is building a deep AI trait discovery platform called CRE.AI.TIVE which learns from a wide variety of crop genomic sequences, fully capturing plant diversity. The outputs of the AI trait discovery are thousands of DNA sequence designs that have been fine tuned to achieve the desired gene expression with minimal changes to the original sequence.
The platform is designed to identify variation in DNA regulatory sequences which affect gene expression in plants and then uses gene editing to fine tune these sequences. For example, the platform identified regulatory sequences that once tuned, will reduce browning and subsequent waste in potatoes. Once the platform identifies the targets, the company uses an open source variant of CRISPR to tune gene expression up, down, or off, leading to a non-GMO optimized crop that positively impacts climate.
A Platform and Portfolio Approach to Crop Diversity
Similar to a computational drug discovery company, the company envisions a portfolio of products ranging from traits that improve the environmental and nutritional benefits of crops like tomato and potato to big swings like optimizing for photosynthesis or enabling new plant based alternative proteins. We believe this portfolio approach maximizes the opportunity for the company and the sustainable agriculture market where risk can be mitigated and diversified across a broad swath of traits and crops.
At scale, Phytoform will unlock the sustainable agriculture market bringing clean, diverse, and healthy produce to market for consumers. Using machine learning, Phytoform can expose previously undiscovered parts of crop genomes and rapidly develop and implement novel crop traits to reduce agriculture’s global footprint. Currently Phytoform is leveraging its platform to introduce traits in tomato and potato that reduce waste in the supply chain from harvest to the consumer, as well as working to increase yields in agriculture all with less inputs.
Mission-Driven, Technical, and Commercially-Oriented Founders
Phytoform was founded by William Pelton and Nicolas Kral after completing their PhDs in plant science at Imperial College London. They met at school and started Phytoform because they wanted to put their scientific work into action in a way that would have a meaningful impact. When we met Will and Nicolas we were immediately impressed with their technical and commercial acumen and orientation, their passion for what they are building, and the vision they have for the future of agriculture. After meeting Will and Nicolas, it’s difficult not to be energized by the authenticity they display in building their life’s work. The founders are also very commercially-minded relative to others in the category, with signed deals for a number of programs already.
They have also hired extremely talented folks. The interdisciplinary and growing team at Phytoform includes 7 PhD’s across plant science, bioinformatics and quantum physics and theory. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Will, Nicolas, and the team at Phytoform!