We use protein engineering to create resistance traits for any disease in any plant.
TL;DR: Ohmic Biosciences genetically engineers plants to make them resistant to disease. Our first product is a soybean resistant to a parasite that causes over $1.5B of yearly damage in the US alone.
Plant diseases cost the world more than $200B every year. Climate change and trade globalization are accelerating the problem, but existing solutions are failing. Today, crop diseases are controlled in two ways:
Agrochemicals are slow and expensive to commercialize. Once pathogens evolve resistance to them, they are useless. Many are being taken off the market and it is increasingly difficult to get new products approved.
Genetic resistance traits are a better solution - no spraying - but are plagued by a basic tradeoff: they usually either work really well but are easy for pathogens to evolve around, or are robust to pathogen evolution but don't work so well.
This comes down to a basic limitation of plant breeding and biotechnology as practiced today: both amount to hoping the gene you want already exists in nature and embarking on a fishing expedition to find it. Sometimes that works, but there's no reason to believe that genes useful for industrial agriculture will have evolved naturally.
Ohmic Biosciences is taking a different approach. We are protein engineers. We know what traits we want; instead of hoping nature already made them, we're engineering them ourselves.
Plant pathogens have a difficult job. To even start infecting a plant they need to breach the plant's tough cell wall and disable its innate immune system. They do all of this by secreting a whole suite of effector proteins that attack the plant in various ways. We engineer proteins that inhibit those effectors, effectively defanging plant diseases.
We're starting by focusing on soybean cyst nematode (SCN), a tiny parasitic worm that has completely infested the US and causes >$1.5B in yield loss every year. That number is probably an underestimate, because SCN is an insidious root parasite that rarely causes visible above-ground symptoms - just yield loss.
Above: soybean cyst nematode infection on soybean roots.
We met as postdocs at the University of Colorado Boulder where we worked together for 2.5 years on engineering plant hormone receptors into biosensors. Before that, PJ worked in CS and synthetic biology and Matt worked in plant genetics and biochemistry.
Please get in touch if you or anyone you know is interested in protein engineering for agriculture! Find us on LinkedIn here.