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Forager in action. Image credit: Brightseed

Brightseed banks $27m to build out its plant nutrient discovery platform

September 15, 2020

San Francisco-based Brightseed has raised $27 million in a funding round led by Lewis & Clark Agrifood.

The startup has developed an artificial intelligence-powered platform to discover and identify phytonutrients – chemical compounds in plants that could have beneficial effects on human health.

Phytonutrients are produced by plants to protect themselves against disease and predation, or to boost their growth. Many of these compounds have been found to have a range of positive health and wellness benefits for humans, too, with some showing anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective properties, among others.

Named Forager, Brightseed’s discovery technology is aimed at revealing phytonutrients that remain “hidden in nature,” despite “centuries of wisdom proving the critical roles plants play in supporting human health.” According to the startup, it’s estimated that less than 1% of the world’s phytonutrients have been identified to date.

After Forager’s discovery work is complete, Brightseed’s science team undertakes investigation of the compounds, validating their potential impact and usefulness for human health and wellness.

The startup said it recently made its “debut discovery.” Without giving further details, it claimed the phytonutrient in question may have “profound implications” for the estimated 2 billion people worldwide who either suffer from, or at risk of devleoping, chronic metabolic complaints such as diabetes, fatty liver disease, and clinical obesity.

“We’re in an unprecedented public health crisis, and people are looking for plant-based products that will contribute to a healthier life,” said Jim Flatt, Brightseed co-founder and CEO, referring to Covid-19 and its wider impact in a statement.

“With millions of phytonutrients hidden in plants, it’s crucial that we discover these compounds and understand how they help us. Much like mapping the human genome opened up a new era for medicine, using Forager AI to map the connections between plants and people is one of the most exciting new frontiers of science.”

In addition to revealing new compounds, Forager can also be deployed to find new beneficial uses for existing plant-derived ingredients.

This is the basis of several of Brightseed’s partnerships with other industry players, including Danone. The startup is working with the food manufacturing major’s North America unit to elucidate the health benefits of plant-based ingredients that Danone offers as part of its consumer product lines.

“From the moment we’re born, we’re going to know exactly what foods we should eat, for what purpose.” Hear more from Brightseed co-founder Sofia Elizondo on the Future Food podcast, here

Brightseed said it will use the new investment for research and development, as well as commercialization of its phytonutrient discoveries so they can be applied in the food, beverage, and nutraceuticals segments.

The new round takes the startup’s total funding to date to $52 million, following an earlier capital injection from US VC firms AgFunder, Fifty Years, Germin8 Ventures, and S2G Ventures; Hong Kong’s Horizons Ventures; and CGC Ventures. [Disclosure: AgFunder is AFN‘s parent company.]

Following this latest funding, Brightseed also announced a raft of new appointments to boardroom and advisory roles.

Elaine Leavenworth, former senior vice president and chief marketing and external affairs officer at healthcare giant Abbott Laboratories, has joined the startup’s board of directors; as has Lewis & Clark operating partner David Russell.

Joining in an advisory capacity are Bernhard van Lengerich, former chief scientific officer of General Mills and board member at Beyond Meat; Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University; Indra Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of Pepsico and board director at Amazon; and Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market.

“These [phytonutrient] discoveries already have a major impact on how we’re formulating the things we consume every day. This is a new approach that provides a much deeper understanding of the connections between plants and human biology,” said Russell.

“Brightseed [is] leading the search for natural phytonutrients that will provide dramatic health benefits,” Leavenworth said. “Given today’s health crises this has even greater urgency.”

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