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Agtech start-up raises $100m in Series A from VC-backed Ginkgo, Bayer

The two firms have teamed up with Viking Global to create a company that will focus on nitrogen fixation, a process that enables plants to fulfill their nutrient needs without fertilizer.

image showing a person's hands in blue rubber glove holding a small leafy plant with tweezers next to a microscope and laboratory glassware

The two firms have teamed up with Viking Global to create a company that will focus on nitrogen fixation, a process that enables plants to fulfill their nutrient needs without fertilizer.

Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology company based in Boston, has joined forces with Germany’s Bayer to launch an agtech start-up focused on developing technologies that make the use of nitrogen fertilizers superfluous.

Bayer, Ginkgo and one of the latter’s investors, US hedge fund Viking Global, participated in the $100 million Series A financing round that will fund the joint venture. The companies did not disclose financial details and both Bayer and Ginkgo declined to comment through their spokespeople.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ginkgo will provide exclusive access to its technology, laboratory and office spaces, and will build a new facility exclusively for the new company, which will be completed in November, a spokeswoman for Ginkgo told Agri Investor. “The facility will be dedicated to microbial strain engineering,” she added, but declined to disclose details on capital investments at this time.

Bayer will provide exclusive access to proprietary microbial genetic variants and all necessary development know-how. The company will be headquartered in Boston, with operations split between Boston and West Sacramento, California, “where it will leverage the existing organism engineering and plant biologics capabilities of its parent companies,” Ginkgo’s spokeswoman said.

According to the statement, the West Sacramento site is a global R&D site for Crop Science, a division of Bayer, hosting the biologics R&D team, which focuses on innovative biological pest and disease management solutions.

The new facility, which will be located in Boston, “will be dedicated to microbial strain engineering,” the spokeswoman said.

Ginkgo’s third-generation automated foundry, currently under construction, will be used by the new company to develop technologies with applications in sustainable agriculture.

“The plant microbiome is one of the next frontiers in sustainable agriculture,” said Axel Bouchon, head of the Bayer Lifescience Center. “And it may enable us to take a major leap in plant physiology: producing nitrogen fertilizer directly in the plant.”

According to the companies, improving microbes’ ability to make nitrogen fertilizer available for plants will mean lower input costs for farmers. It will also bring significant environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution associated with the use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Mike Miille, vice-president at Crop Science, will serve as interim chief executive of the new company. Its board of directors will comprise two representatives from Ginkgo Bioworks and two representatives from Bayer. The name of the new company is yet to be determined, the spokeswoman for Ginkgo said.

Founded in 2008 by computer scientist and synthetic biologist Tom Knight, Ginkgo Bioworks’ investors include Felicis Ventures, OS Fund, Data Collective, iGlobe Partners and Vast Ventures. In the past 24 months, the company has raised $154 million in venture capital, most of it earmarked to grow its technology platform.