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Puna Bio Raises $3.7M Seed Funding to Restore Soil Health with Desert Microbes

Puna Bio Raises $3.7M Seed Funding to Restore Soil Health with Desert Microbes

Researchers in the remote Puna Desert of Argentina discover “extremophiles” that make plant growth possible on highly degraded soil, boost yields 9-13% on fertile soil and replace synthetic fertilizers.

Today Puna Bio announces $3.7 million in seed funding that will be used to commercially launch its first soybean seed treatment in Argentina that is cost competitive to existing biological solutions, expand field trials for wheat and corn, and pursue the regulatory pathway in the United States and Brazil.

The oversubscribed round is led by At One Ventures and Builders VC, with participation from Brazil-based SP Ventures and Air Capital, as well as follow-on from pre-seed funders IndieBio (SOSV), GLOCAL, and Grid Exponential.

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Puna Bio’s founding team has discovered and studied for over 20 years life in the Puna de Atacama of the Andes, a high-altitude desert (4500m above sea level) full of salt flats, active volcanoes, saline wetlands and desert soil. “La Puna” is the highest and driest desert on Earth, with one-fifth the rainfall of Death Valley. Yet even under those extreme conditions of degraded, acidic, UV-irradiated and salinated soil, there are organisms 3.5 billion years old that have not just survived, but thrived.

“By looking at the genomics of the bacteria from this harsh environment – which resembles primitive Earth, or even Mars – we were able to understand how specific genes generate processes that allow plants to overcome stress conditions,” said co-founder and CRO María Eugenia Farías, who has studied La Puna for 20 years and published over 100 research papers on the topic. “Those properties can then be applied to food crops, to help them grow in similar environments with a lack of nutrients, drought conditions, drastic temperature changes and high UV radiation, which are all of the challenges we are seeing today.”

One-third of the world’s agricultural soil is now considered “degraded,” due to continual plowing of fields, heavy use of fertilizers, pollution and erosion which is occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation, according to the United Nations.

In just the past few decades, agricultural production has increased 3X and irrigated land has doubled to meet the global demand for food, which is predicted to increase by 60-70% by 2050 as we hit a population of 9 billion, creating a potential food catastrophe.

“Without bold innovation, we will soon run out of healthy arable soil sufficient to feed the planet,” said CEO and co-founder Franco Martínez Levis. “Puna Bio’s seed treatment repairs and restores soil health with these proprietary extremophiles; we’ve seen yield increases of up to 25% in individual trials in high stress conditions.”

“But the magic of these microbes extends beyond just land that is suffering,” he added. “Like an athlete who trains at high altitudes, at sea level they will outperform. On regular land, with fertile soil, the seed treatment boost yields on average 9-13% – that’s 3-4X more than the biologicals that the big players in this market are offering. Also, our ‘win rate’ is over 90%, compared to the 67% of our competitors, meaning the results are more consistent and the ROI to the farmer is clear.”

Puna Bio has scaled to over 20,000 acres of product coverage for soybeans in Latin America, using both single strain and mixed strain products. They have obtained an exclusive license from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina for exclusive use of strains for 20 years, globally, in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol.

“Scientists are working hard on GMOs like drought-tolerant soy and wheat, and we saw Puna Bio as a complement to those efforts,” noted Laurie Menoud, founding partner of At One Ventures. “The problem of feeding our growing population is massive, so it’s not an either-or. We need both genetics and biologicals (on cost parity to agrochemicals) to work together to elevate production levels without affecting natural resources while ensuring long-term sustainability of the agricultural business.”

The company’s seed treatment is shelf stable and is already being tested by farmers in the United States. They plan to expand their R&D team and conduct field trials for wheat and corn, both of which use very little biological treatments and are more reliant on agrochemicals, specifically nitrogen fertilizers.

Puna Bio’s scientists have already identified and isolated specific strains of extremophiles that reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer by approximately 20% and are carrying out field trials with new strains that aim to increase that number to 30%. Reduction of nitrogen fertilizers will in turn reduce carbon emissions, as they are currently the source of one-third of total agricultural emissions.

“Puna Bio, at scale, could be one of the most important mitigators of the effects of climate change on our food stock,” said Mark Goldstein, Managing Partner of Builders VC. “It’s an exciting journey to be part of and we’re looking forward to seeing Puna Bio truly impact the marketplace.”

Source: Puna Bio


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