Venture capital firm TechAcc has completed an equity investment into agri biotech firm Epicrop Technologies, part of an extended Series A round that brings the total raised to $3.2 million.
Additional funds were provided by North Forty Ventures, which led the round, as well as Nelnet, Speedway Properties and Allen & Company.
Lincoln, Nebraska-based Epicrop is developing epigenetics — a type of biological information that involves changes in gene expression but does not change a plant’s DNA or add genes — aimed at improving crop yields using conventional plant breeding techniques and molecular markers.
“In field and greenhouse trials, Epicrop’s epigenetically improved plants — including soybeans, tomatoes and sorghum — showed increased yields and stress tolerance,” according to a company statement.
Gene editing techniques have the potential to curb herbicide resistance, reduce the need for chemical inputs and increase yields; seed giant Monsanto is among those investing in and actively using such technology. But GM foods have also faced scrutiny in the eyes of health-conscious consumers.
Increasing yield and stress tolerance are indeed Epicrop’s key goals, but the method “has the potential to provide these traits by adding epigenetic information directly to the seeds of commercial varieties without adding any genetic material,” noted Epicrop CEO Dr. Michael Fromm, which could potentially change consumer perceptions.
“The unique features of this method readily fit into traditional commercial breeding and seed production methods to facilitate company adoption of this system,” he said.
Epicrop and its financial backers believe the technology could have wide implications for addressing global food demand in the future. Until then, Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D., president and CEO of TechAccel, said his firm’s investment will help advance the Epicrop science for at least two additional crops.
“The pressure is on all of us in agriculture to deliver higher performing plants in the face of challenges like climate change and increasing global demand,” added Dr. Sally Mackenzie, co-founder of Epicrop and professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
In addition to the Series A round, Epicrop has received two Phase 1 competitive federal SBIR grants and is partnering with several seed industry leaders to begin improving current elite commercial varieties.
In February 2017, TechAccel completed an investment in Agrivida, a St. Louis-based agriculture technology company focused on animal nutrition.