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TechAccel announces investment in plant biotechnology startup Plastomics Inc.

Venture development company TechAccel, LLC announced on Thursday that it has completed a science advancement investment with Plastomics Inc., a St. Louis-based biotechnology startup making better crops through chloroplast engineering.

TechAccel’s investment will fund a science advancement initiative designed to accelerate the development of Plastomics’ technology and a new chloroplast-expressed insect control trait collaboration currently in development. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

“We are excited to work with TechAccel in expanding our trait development pipeline,” said Jeffrey Staub, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Science Officer of Plastomics. “This new insect control trait will greatly benefit from the high dosage and increased efficacy that our chloroplast engineering platform provides.”

Founded in 2014, Kansas-based TechAccel is a technology and venture development organization focused on agriculture and animal health. The company invests in innovative technology and funds science advancement programs to accelerate readiness for commercialization.

TechAccel’s Chief Science Officer Brad Fabbri, Ph.D. said that the idea for the investment company came out of a talk between TechAccel Founder and CEO Michael Helmstetter, and Kansas State University. He took note that a lot of early-stage technology comes out of academia, but it’s too early for the technologies to get a lot of traction.

“We do find some really interesting things coming out of universities,” said Fabbri. “In addition to having this really big focus on looking for investment opportunities within academia, we also participate in standard, fairly early-stage companies.”

Through collaborations with universities and research institutions, TechAccel conducts advancement and de-risking research and development to ready technologies for commercialization. It functions as a private, non-university equity company that both invests in companies and also provide expertise in global strategics around plant and animal agriculture

Fabbri said that TechAccel is very focused and careful about where and when they invest.

“One of the things that really differentiates TechAccel from other companies, is we will only [make an equity investment] if we can fund and participate in a science advancement,” said Fabbri.

That’s one of the reasons why Plastomics was the right choice for a TechAccel investment.

“Plastomics’ technology holds tremendous promise in its ability to manipulate genetic material in the chloroplast,” said Fabbri. “If successfully developed for corn or other row crops, chloroplast transformation offers a number of unique benefits over ‘traditional’ nuclear transformation, including potential high expression levels of a transgene, ease of combining (‘stacking’) multiple transgenes in the same plant and not having the transgenic traits transmitted via pollen drift.”

Founded in 2016, Plastomics recently announced the closing of an early round of seed funding with investments from BioGenerator and The Yield Lab, both St. Louis-based investors.

“Plastomics has a stellar team,” said Fabbri. “[Founder] Jeff Staub and his scientific Co-founder Ralph Bock have both done work on chloroplast engineering] as graduate students and as postdocs; they’re renowned as world experts in it. It’s still risky, but new things have been learned overall that are going to help their effort.”

Fabbri said that TechAccel understands that risk but believes that investing in agricultural technologies, especially those that affect global food supplies, is necessary as the population increases but land availability for growing stays the same.

“We don’t have any more land available for either plants or animals,” said Fabbri. “Every acre we’re using for either plant or animal production to feed humans needs to become more sustainably productive, and we need to make sure we’re doing things that are environmentally sustainable.”

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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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