Restructuring an existing partnership, Bayer will fully outsource to Ginkgo Bioworks the R&D for its biologicals business, which is focused on using microbes to fix nitrogen in soils, fight pests, and sequester carbon.
The two companies formed a joint venture called Joyn Bio in 2017, primarily to develop nitrogen-fixing microbes for cereal crops. Now, Ginkgo will absorb Joyn, while Bayer will market the product concepts that emerged from the partnership.
As a part of the deal, Ginkgo is getting Bayer’s biologicals research site in West Sacramento, California, complete with the existing team. Ginkgo’s biologicals research arm will now offer services to other agricultural companies, but Bayer will remain an anchor customer.
Joyn Bio CEO Mike Miille says Joyn is about a third of the way towards commercializing a microbial seed treatment that would fix nitrogen in soil for cereal crops like corn and wheat. He estimates it will take roughly 4 more years to bring a product to market in the US. The company’s goal is to create a microbe that allows farmers to reduce synthetic fertilizer use by 40% without losing any yield.
“We did a lot of work in the first couple of years demonstrating this work,” Miille says, “first in the greenhouse, and then more recently we’ve moved into early, early proof-of-concept field trials.”
Mark Trimmer, who runs the biological consulting firm DunhamTrimmer, says the transition from a joint venture to an outsourcing agreement will allow each partner to focus more on their specialty. Ginkgo can rely on Bayer’s sales team, which is already connected to retailers and farmers. And Trimmer says handing off R&D to Ginkgo is likely easier for Bayer than building up those capabilities internally.
“I think they’ve decided it just doesn’t fit as well into their own R&D organization,” he says.
Trimmer says the new arrangement could help both companies move faster. That’s critical because competitors making nitrogen-fixing microbes like Pivot Bio and Corteva already have commercial products.