British bio-tech secures £5.3 million to commercialise sustainable farming solutions

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

FA Bio has developed a novel approach to discover and collect microbes through its SporSenZ technology. Image: FA Bio
FA Bio has developed a novel approach to discover and collect microbes through its SporSenZ technology. Image: FA Bio

Related tags microbes biologicals soil health

FA Bio claims to be revolutionising sustainable agriculture with the discovery of superior microbes for game-changing bio-products which can increase crop yields, protect biodiversity and replace chemical inputs, minimising the environmental impacts of agriculture and reducing GHG emissions.

FA Bio, the British bio-tech company with a vision to protect natural ecosystems by identifying superior microbial bio-products that will improve soil health and boost crop production, has secured £5.3 million of investment from three European venture capital investment funds as well as existing shareholders and new private investors.  

The investment was co-led by Clean Growth Fund, a £101 million UK-based climate VC fund and Pymwymic, a Dutch-based impact VC fund focused on investing in food and agriculture technologies. Ship2B Ventures, a Spanish impact VC fund investing in early-stage companies addressing key environmental and social issues, has also invested in the round. The investment underlines the growing financial commitment to the bio-tech sector by VC funds across global markets.  

Based at the Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, a research facility that focuses on agricultural science, FA Bio (previously known as FungiAlert) is pioneering the discovery and development of superior microbial bioproducts, including biocontrols, biostimulants and biofertilisers that can replace chemical inputs in agriculture.  

FA Bio founders
The company is led by Dr Angela de Manzanos Guinot and Dr Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver. Image: FA Bio

Soil microbial analysis tool for growers

FA Bio uses its patented SporSenZ technology, a unique targeted microbial sampling strategy, to collect data and microbial isolates from agricultural fields. With its team of expert scientists, the company then looks to develop the most promising microbes into agricultural bioproducts for the most important crops in our global food systems. 

FA Bio claims this approach is significantly faster and more effective than alternative approaches, reducing development times to around 18 months from up to six years, which it claims is a “game changer” for the industry.

SporSenZ was commercialised in 2018, under the FungiAlert brand, as a soil microbial analysis tool for growers.

According to the company, the technology harnesses the response of soil microbes to the environment, making it a powerful tool for studying soil biodiversity.

Dr Angela de Manzanos Guinot, CEO said: “Intensive agriculture and overuse of agrochemicals have contributed to a 70% biodiversity loss in the past 50 years, which has been made worse by the damaging effects of climate change – drought, soil warming and higher levels of CO₂.  Our innovative technology and game-changing bioproducts have the potential to boost crop productivity and provide a natural alternative to chemical fertilisers, protecting the world’s natural ecosystems. With this latest round of investment, we can accelerate our R&D work and development of bioproducts for the agriculture sector and achieve our vision of revolutionising sustainable agriculture.”  

The new investment, made by Clean Growth Fund, Pymwymic and Ship2B Ventures, will support the commercialisation of FA Bio’s technology, the company’s ongoing research work and fund the expansion of its team. 

Dr Jonathan Tudor, Investment Partner at Clean Growth Fund said: “Given the challenges – natural and man-made – that agriculture is facing across the world, FA Bio has significant growth potential. We are excited by the carbon emissions reduction that FA Bio’s technology can achieve in agriculture.” 

Sophie Pickering, Investment Manager at Pymwymic said: “We truly believe FA Bio’s innovative discovery method promises game-changing products for sustainable agriculture.”

How it works

FA Bio claims the SporSenZ technology is the first in-the-field sensor to sample microorganisms in soil and in water. It works with growers first placing the sensors in the sampling point for the recommended period of time. The SporSenZ composition mimics roots compounds, attracting active and dominant microbes in the soil.

It combines four low-cost technologies; a chemo-attractant needle to attract the soil-water borne fungal spores and microbes, a sandwich of 3 filters and 2 layers of chemical attractants, and a detection chamber for visualisation. Pushed directly into the soil, the over ground chamber changes colour to alert the farmer to send the sensor to the lab for analysis in 2-5 days.

After the SporSenZ has captured a microbial sample, it is then returned to the FA Bio laboratory where soil-health experts do species identification using DNA sequencing methods and return the results via email to growers.

FA Bio claims to have so far analysed 2,059 samples, 4,432 unique soil microbes and 47 crops in 14 countries.

Farmer agronomist benefits

The sensor can detect soil-borne plant diseases such as Phytophthora app and alerts farmers of pre-planting or in-crop infection risk.

According to the company, the sensor helps guide evidence-based, accurately timed fungicide applications throughout the crop growing season. It also provides information on soil microbiome health to guide management practices.

Understand the pre-planting and in-season pathogenic and beneficial microbial community in specific fields, it said, can help guide key agronomy decisions for improving crop yields. These include well-timed and tailored crop protection strategies including fungicides sprays, timing and efficacy, seed treatments, crop rotational decisions, and harvest timing.

Jaime de Antonio, Investment Manager at Ship2B Ventures said: “We truly believe FA Bio’s developments will protect a damaged natural GHG sink, the land.” 

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