CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) —Bayer AG, one of the world’s biggest agricultural chemical companies, is joining a US$100 million bet that the next big breakthrough in crop fertilizers will be found inside a biological Petri dish.
Its Bayer LifeScience Center division, along with biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks, is forming a startup to focus on developing biological ways to reduce the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer or make farmers’ use more efficient, company officials said.
The still-unnamed business will focus on plant-based microbes, particularly finding ways for micro-organisms to help plants and the soil assimilate nitrogen molecules from the air or other sources, Gingko Bioworks chief executive officer Jason Kelly said.
The effort is part of a broader push in agricultural research to harness the micro-organisms in plants and soil and, among other things, use them to improve crop yields or allow plants to thrive on lower amounts of fertilizer.
Reducing nitrogen fertilizer use would lessen concerns about water contamination and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Bayer-Gingko startup plans to hire 50 people and have offices at Ginkgo’s Boston facilities and in West Sacramento, California, home to Bayer’s plant biologics test facilities.
The venture will be backed by a Series A investment from the two companies and hedge fund Viking Global Investors LP.