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Agriculture

Ginkgo, Bayer venture taps NewLeaf for plant microbes

Collaboration will focus on unusual genus of symbiotic organisms

by Melody M. Bomgardner
July 22, 2019

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Credit: NewLeaf Symbiotics
NewLeaf discovers strains of symbiotic microbes called methylotrophs that colonize plants.

Joyn Bio, a joint venture of Ginkgo Bioworks and agriculture giant Bayer, has brought on another partner in its quest to develop microbes that fix nitrogen for crops. It has turned to NewLeaf Symbiotics for its database of pink, methanol-munching, plant-colonizing organisms.

The licensing deal is worth up to $75 million in up-front and milestone payments to NewLeaf, which is also developing crop microbe products. Joyn plans to use the library, containing over 12,000 strains of methylotrophs, as a starting point for its own microbe engineering work. Joyn says the partnership will reduce the time it takes to bring its first product to market by two to three years.

Methylotrophs are major plant colonizers. They are found on the surfaces of all plants and even inside plant cells. They readily attach to plant tissue because they use methanol, generated as a by-product of plant metabolism, as food.

The data in NewLeaf’s collection includes microbe genomes, phenotypes, and the phenotypes of microbe-plant interactions, Tom Laurita, NewLeaf’s CEO, tells C&EN. To fully characterize a microbe, NewLeaf scientists study “how it grows and lives, its carbon source preferences, and its compatibility with existing agriculture chemicals,” he explains.

This month, NewLeaf is launching its fourth crop biostimulant based on naturally occurring methylotroph strains. Newleaf says it’s Terrasym 408 showed an average boost in yield of 8.8 bushels of corn per acre in third-party trials, an increase worth about $30. The product increases nutrient and water uptake to help plants grow faster and stronger, the company says.

NewLeaf has no plans of its own to introduce genetically engineered strains of beneficial microbes—that’s Joyn’s area of expertise. Partner Ginkgo has built a dedicated synthetic biology facility to ramp up the power of nitrogen-fixing microbes.

“The potential to pair our platform for microbial engineering with NewLeaf’s microbes will bring unprecedented performance to biological agriculture solutions,” says Mike Miille, Joyn’s CEO.

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