Agragene uses CRISPR technology to sterilize male fruit flies and prevent damage to crops. Image courtesy of Agragene.

Agragene uses CRISPR technology to sterilize male fruit flies and prevent damage to crops. Image courtesy of Agragene.

The agriculture-tech sector is growing and Agragene Inc. is attracting attention from investors.

Additional $4 Million

The San-Diego based start-up received an additional $4 million in Series A funding from Ospraie Ag Science, just four months after receiving seed funding from Ospraie.

Ospraie Ag Science, the venture arm of New York based Ospraie Management LLC, put up an initial $1.2 million seed round financing and have exclusively provided the Series A funding, said Agragene’s founder and CEO, Gordon Alton.

With this new infusion of funding, Agragene has received attention from other investors who are expanding their portfolios beyond biotech and into ag-tech, or agriculture technology, Alton said.

“We had other investors that were interested, but ultimately we went with Ospraie directly because they wanted to do the whole round,” Alton said.

The momentum is building for sustainable products and Alton credits the consumer for driving that trend.

“Of course everyone wants sustainability, so consumers are really driving this and they’re putting the money there,” Alton said.

Building for a Long Time

“This has been building for a long time, but it’s really good to have everyone now sitting at home, going ‘man, where is the food coming from and what’s it doing to the environment?’” Alton said. “People are paying a lot more attention now than they used to and it’s driving innovation in our industry.”

As a fourth-generation farmer with a specialty crop of blueberries, Ospraie Ag Science’s Senior Agricultural Partner, Carl Casale knows the market well. He is optimistic about Agragene’s future and said that similar to consumers, the growers want sustainable agriculture solutions.

“We’re excited about the potential with Agragene,” Casale said. “In particular, we’re pleased to see their progress on the latest technologies and the growing demand for the solutions they offer. They have the potential to be a disruptive entry in a $19 billion market by creating a new pesticide-free insect control category.”

Sustainable Solutions

He added that Agragene is offering sustainable solutions and really expanding the options for growers looking beyond “the conventional synthetic compounds” and “small group of biopesticides that lagged in efficacy.”

“We’re now seeing innovations that greatly expand options for growers, particularly for products that boost performance, improve productivity and lower costs,” Casale said. “Agragene is a great example. They use the latest CRISPR technology to create a natural and highly affordable solution. Savvy investors are motivated by those kinds of demand-driven opportunities.”

Agragene has two main products in development, both of which target fruit flies. The company’s Knock Out product is touted as “insect birth control” as it uses CRISPR-based technology to edit the genes and sterilize male fruit flies.

Targeting Male Fruit Flies

By targeting male fruit flies, with Agragene’s Precision-Guided Sterile Insect Technology (pgSIT) the sterilized insects mate with females to produce unfertilized eggs, thus controlling the pest population without chemicals.

The other product in the works called Border Patrol, employs an attract-and-kill method to manage fruit flies. The insects are attracted to a mat based on food-grade materials where the female flies lay eggs that ultimately dry out and die.

“Our approach to the sterile insect technology is cost effective and should be very similar in cost to what growers would currently spend on their pesticides,” Alton said.

The next step for this start-up is gathering data through field trials and really proving to growers that its bio-pesticides are a viable and cost-effective option, Alton said. n