German syndicate Bayer in association with biotech setup in Boston Ginkgo Bioworks, announced on September 14 that they are forming a new company that will try to produce nitrogen fertilizer from crops like wheat, rice, and corn. The joint venture between Ginkgo and Bayer’s crop science department, which is yet to be named, has the support of US$100 million in capital investment from both the companies and Viking Global Investor, a New York venture firm.
Jason Kelly, Gingko CEO, who will be the part of the board, stated that the new venture’s 50 workers will work on creating a new microorganism that will be called as ‘plant microbiome’ and could create quite a stir in the US$80 billion market for chemical nitrogen fertilizer across the globe, and cut down pollution as well.
Most of the nitrogen fertilizers are produced by large chemical manufacturers. Farmers either inject it into the soil or simply spray is across the fields. While it does boost the crop yields, it causes severe damage to the environment, according to Kelly. Around 3% of the global carbon emissions are a result of production of nitrogen fertilizers and its toxic runoff pollutes water channels and kills fish.
The Ginkgo/Bayer joint venture wants to fertilize crops using their own properties. A handful of crops such as soybean and peanuts do not need external fertilizer for growth as they can produce their own nitrogen. The plan of the team is to enable other crops to produce their own nitrogen by creating a nitrogen producing microbiome in the laboratory and then coating the seed with these artificial cells.