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Crop seeds under the microscope in a lab
Image credit: Motortion / iStock

Amfora gets $6m Series B injection from Bayer, Spruce Capital to increase protein in crops

March 24, 2021

US foodtech startup Amfora has raised $6 million in Series B funding from San Francisco VC firm Spruce Capital Partners and Leaps by Bayer, the corporate venture arm of German life sciences giant Bayer.

The San Francisco-based startup is developing technologies that can enhance the nutritional content of crops used in human food and animal feed.

With an eye on the current boom in plant-based products, Amfora is initially focussing on soy. By applying gene-editing techniques, it’s aiming to dial up the protein density of the soybean plant to make it more economical and sustainable as an ingredient for plant-based meat replacements.

Offering a deeper dive on its methodology, Amfora says it’s using its tech knowhow to flick a ‘genetic switch’ that controls the balance between protein and carbohydrates in plants. By keeping this switch in the ‘on’ position, the startup can ensure that crops produce and store less fiber and starch in their seeds, allowing protein to take up the slack.

This means that plant-based protein manufacturers can effectively get more bang for their buck from the soybean plant. Beyond this, Amfora’s platform also reduces fertilizer use, as fewer crops will be able to provide more protein, according to the biotech startup’s president and CEO Lloyd Kunimoto.

“Our protein-rich crops will enable the manufacturers of plant-based meat, dairy, and seafood to meet the growing consumer demand for their products at lower costs while allowing them to take meaningful steps to address the climate crisis,” Kunimoto said in a statement.

“The proceeds from this financing will also allow us to begin to move forward with the development of crops in addition to soy, such as rice and wheat with improved nutritional profiles that will help to combat the global epidemics in obesity and diabetes while addressing the global crisis in food security and human nutritional needs.”

Leaps by Bayer is adopting an impact lens for corporate venturing – read more from AFN’s Agtech CVC series here

Amfora’s management team earned their pips in senior leadership roles in agribusiness. Kunimoto came on board just before it launched in late 2016, joining from Indigo Ag, where he was an advisor. Prior to that he’d been vice president of corporate strategy at Monsanto (since acquired by Bayer). Chief science officer Michael Lassner joined Amfora from DuPont Pioneer (now named Pioneer and owned by Corteva) where he’d served as vice president of trait discovery for close to a decade.

The startup closed its Series A round in April 2017, securing $5 million from the Spruce Capital-managed Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund II and Australia’s national R&D agency CSIRO.

“Meeting the rapidly growing demand for a sustainable protein supply is a key focus area for Leaps by Bayer,” Juergen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, said in a statement.

“Our investment in Amfora underscores our belief in the importance of moving from more to better in plant protein production, as well as enhancing global food security while reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.”

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