Biome Makers, an ag bioinformatics startup for the wine industry, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding from global investment firm Viking Global Investors, genomics company Illumina’s accelerator, and family offices.
The startup offers a soil testing service to vineyards to give them recommendations and insights on improving the quality and yield of their crop. It does this by testing for microbial species in the soil, and determining the impact they will have on a vineyard through an extensive microbial database.
“Part of our secret sauce is in how we extract DNA from microbes in the soil,” said John Dimos, general manager of Biome Makers. “The next step is to sequence that DNA and match it to microbes in our database to determine the relevance of its presence in the soil for a vineyard in a particular region.”
Biome Makers’ database has over 22k samples of microbes from various strains of fungi to yeast and bacteria. This dataset is extensive enough for the company to be able to determine what wine growing region an unlabeled sample of soil comes from in the world, according to Dimos.
“That really blew me away when I joined last year; I come from a healthcare background because I can use my medical level diagnostics experience, and this is years beyond what’s being used in a clinical testing setting, so it really caught my attention,” he said.
Through its database, Biome Makers knows how different microbes interact with plants and each other, and how this might impact not only growth but also fermentation of the grapes into wine. The company can predict if grapes have the potential to grow with certain flavors or even if it’s likely to be a vintage year for a vineyard.
“Say we come across Yeast X, what does it mean? We might know it’s overrepresented in certain vineyards or that academic studies point to its presence usually preempting a particular vine disease,” said Dimos.
Biome Makers condenses all its research from a client’s soil sample into a simple report offering recommendations and insights. The service can be performed on a one-off basis, or a client can have a prescription for a test every season of the year.
The startup will use the funding to perform more testing and expand the database ahead of its commercial launch next year. “We’re collecting as many data as we can to understand historical weather patterns, the history of past grapes planted in certain soils and area, how much it was irrigated and so on,” said Dimos.
The company has launched a special offer to increase its sampling footprint; it is offering up to five vineyards in every wine region globally a free test if they send in their samples.
Data scientists make up the bulk of the Biome Makers team today, which is mostly in Spain but Dimos is based in San Francisco. The startup was the first to take part in the Illumina Accelerator from overseas, according to Dimos.
The startup will be hiring bioinformaticists and marketing personnel in Spain and the US, he added.
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