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Companies at Norwich Research Park TraitSeq and PfBIO secure Innovate UK funding

30 May 2024

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Two companies that originated from research carried out at Norwich Research Park have announced significant funding that will help them with the next stages of their development.

TraitSeq and PfBIO were successful in securing grants of around £100,000 from Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme. Only seven companies in the East of England received these grants, where the focus is to develop new activity in agri-tech and food technology and drive innovation in food production and sustainability.

TraitSeq has developed a technology that uses machine learning methods that enables highly precise trait performance predictions to be made, which could significantly enhance the speed and efficiency of breeding and product selection processes.

This places TraitSeq at the forefront of empowering the agritech industry to develop high-yielding and climate-resilient crop varieties, animal breeds and agricultural inputs.

Developed by TraitSeq’s CEO and co-founder Dr Joshua Colmer during his PhD research at the Earlham Institute, this technology is particularly effective in tackling challenges that crops face. This includes drought tolerance and nutrient-use efficiency, which are notoriously difficult to screen due to their intricate genetic interactions and complex responses to environmental conditions.

Dr Colmer said: “We are delighted to have been successful with our Innovate UK grant application as only a select few companies in the region have achieved this. It significantly enhances the credibility of our business and affirms its potential value and viability. This grant will enable us to make significant strides towards validating our biomarker-based models in wheat, commercialising our platform and making an impact on UK breeding.

“We couldn’t have got to this point so quickly without the support of Anglia Innovation Partnership (the campus management organisation at Norwich Research Park) who helped fund our initial exploration and then provided us with a development programme and access to funders that has meant we have been able to rapidly establish and develop our business.

“Being a virtual tenant has helped enormously. It means we are able to rent office space at Centrum when we need it and also benefit from the networking and collaboration opportunities that it offers. Having Norwich Research Park as our address has certainly helped to open new doors.”

PfBIO is a spin-out from the John Innes Centre that is developing bacteria-based products as viable alternatives to synthetic agrochemicals, that will promote plant health and protect crops from major agricultural diseases.

Many pesticides and other agrochemicals have been – or will soon be – withdrawn from the market because of the detrimental impact they have on the environment. So, farmers are moving away from conventional chemical-dominated agriculture to more sustainable and eco-friendly methods.

PfBIO has developed technology that helps to identify the best natural biocontrol and plant-biostimulant bacteria strains so that it can create bioproducts tailored to specific crops and crop diseases. The resulting plant treatments are kind to the environment and can be used as effective alternatives to conventional agrochemicals.

PfBIO will use the grant award to fund a project to develop a commercial prototype product designed to naturally stimulate plant rooting and fruiting and recruit for its R&D team. Initially, the project will focus on the berry sector, but it will also explore other valuable crops.

Experiments will be performed in conditions that closely mimic commercial settings to prove the effectiveness of the generated biosolutions. If successful, this will generate new investment opportunities and new potential partnerships with manufacturing companies able to support PfBIO’s scale-up production.

PfBIO CEO Rosaria Campilongo said: “Winning the grant from Innovate UK’s Launchpad competition is a game-changer for us. It accelerates the development of our first plant-biostimulant product and gets us much closer to being able to bring it to market.

“Being part of the vibrant Norwich Research Park community has been key for our business growth. Our R&D activities have benefitted hugely from being able to use the bioscience platform services, facilities and expertise at institutes such as the John Innes Centre.”

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, said: “I am delighted to see that TraitSeq and PfBIO are making great strides in bringing important new products and technology to market that will have really positive impacts on how we grow crops.

“Rosa and Josh are both excellent examples of the many amazing individuals working across the Park community.”

Image: Strawberries growing in a polytunnel. PfBIO will use the grant award to fund a project to stimulate plant rooting and fruiting in the berry sectors (Image by: Jeurgen64 on Pixabay)

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