US biotech firm Precision BioSciences, Inc. has entered into an agreement to separate its wholly owned Elo Life Systems subsidiary and create an independent food and agriculture business. The move comes three years after the rebrand of ‘Precision PlantSciences‘ as Elo Life Systems. All employees of Elo, including its management, have transitioned to the new company as part of the agreement. With investment led by ACCELR8, Precision Biosciences will maintain an equity stake.
“The separation of Precision BioSciences and Elo Life Systems was an important 2021 corporate imperative intended to enable operational success for both companies going forward,” says Michael Amoroso, Chief Executive Officer of Precision BioSciences. “Elo is now a separate food and agriculture business, with independent financial resources and focused core capabilities to support its essential mission to improve human health and wellness through food.”
The official Elo Life Systems mission is ‘to create novel products that improve the nutrition and diversity of the global food supply’. The new company will continue to maintain and form partnerships with leading food companies to develop products that bridge gaps in productivity, nutritional demand, food security, climate resilience and human wellness.
Precision plant breeding technologies
Elo deploys machine learning algorithms to gain deeper insights into plant genomes, genes and traits of value. The new company will continue to utilise its genome editing platform in order to advance crop traits. Elo’s advanced growth chambers also have the capability of simulating a plethora of growth environments to advance optimised crops into their environments of scale i.e. field, production greenhouses or vertical farms.
“We are a technology company that accelerates plant breeding,” says Elo Life Systems CEO Fayaz Khazi, Ph.D.. “Traditional breeding takes a lot of time and effort, sometimes decades, to breed a plant to adapt to withstand the negative impacts of its environment, diseases and pests. With our technology platforms we compress crop improvement into a very short time frame.”
Endangered crops – breeding TR4 resistant banana plants
In conjunction with Dole Food Company, Elo is addressing the rapid growth of the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) banana disease which is decimating banana crops worldwide, Fusarium TR4 is a fungus that has been destroying banana plantations for over 30 years. Founded on the limited genetic diversity of just one variety, the global banana plant population was always vulnerable to the emergence of a single pathogen. With its plant breeding technology, Elo is developing banana varieties which can resist the Fusarium TR4 pathogen with the goal of bringing the ‘global banana pandemic’ to a end.
Improving the livelihoods of small-holder vanilla farmers
80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in tropical Madagascar, but without its native Mexican bee to assist with pollination, each flower has to be hand-pollinated within a very small time frame of just a few hours. The monitoring and labour intensive nature of vanilla growing makes it the most expensive spice after saffron – with ever increasing global demand set to increase prices still further.
Elo’s genomic mapping has opened the door to breeding a vanilla orchid structurally capable of self-pollinating. “Our multi-crop expertise and suite of genomics-based technologies are well-placed to address intractable global challenges like sustainable vanilla production,” adds Khazi “This is the first significant step towards improving the livelihoods of small-holder farmers in vanilla producing regions.”
Other projects in which Elo is involved include:
- The development of healthy sweeteners – the firm’s ZeroMelon® brand of watermelon will be a scalable natural, zero-calorie alternative to high fructose corn syrup and chemical sweeteners.
- With ZeroCanola®, Elo aims to make canola oil healthier by reducing the total saturated fatty acids to ultra-low levels, without compromising the frying characteristics or flavour of the oil.
- Working in strategic partnership with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and with its first international lab in Australia, Elo Life Systems is utilising genome editing technology to create drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, protein-rich chickpeas. Australia is the largest global exporter of pulses in the world, and one of the top exporters of chickpeas but a five-year drought has caused many farmers to stop growing the crop.