Pluton Biosciences is hard at work identifying beneficial microorganisms and putting them to work in agriculture, and just raised a $16.5 million A round to commercialize its most promising finds.
The company raised its $6.6 million seed round in 2021, and I reported then about its approach of identifying and isolating microbes and bacteria that perform useful work. Nature is pretty good at solving problems via billions of years of evolution, and there’s tremendous biodiversity in every scoop of soil or microbiome.
As cool as it is to isolate and study dozens of new-to-science micros, ultimately Pluton needed to choose one that worked as product, not just a project. They settled on what they call a “microbial cover crop” that captures and sequesters carbon and nitrogen in the soil. This process is not just good for the crops and the environment, but it’s potentially a very valuable market; Pivot Bio raised a monster $430 million in 2021 to commercialize a microbial alternative to nitrogen-filled fertilizer.
“We have highly repeatable lab and greenhouse data for several product candidates that sequester carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere and place it in the soil. Early testing verified growth on soil during the target season on agricultural fields,” said CEO and CFO Elizabeth Gallegos in response to TechCrunch’s questions. Field testing this year should quantify the sequestration process and how the product affects (positively, presumably) the soil itself.
Meanwhile R&D continues, along the carbon side and the more generally environment-friendly:
“We have discovered novel microbes that generate durable carbon that will persist in soils for decades and have the potential to be used in industries outside of agriculture,” Gallegos said. And one of their microbes led them to discover a new molecule that acts as an insecticide against a particular pest, the fall armyworm — that may be their next big product.
The company has doubled in size from 8 to 17 people, and expects to double again over the next year; the physical size of their office and lab was also doubled, and one expects it will continue to grow as well.
The new funding round was led by Illumina Ventures and RA Capital, which tend to focus on genomics, precision health, and other life science verticals. Fall Line Capital, The Grantham Foundation, First In Ventures, Wollemi, Radicle Growth, and iSelect also participated in the raise.