Institute of Technology Carlow spinout MicroGen Biotech has raised $3.8 million (€3.47 million) in a funding round led by a number of top US and European agtech investors.
The financing brings total funding to date to $8.5 million for the company that has successfully developed proprietary technology to ensure better food safety and soil health.
MicroGen Biotech was established in 2012 as an Irish High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU) spinout from the EnviroCORE research group at IT Carlow.
Headed by Dr. Xuemei Germaine, MicroGen Biotech applies constructed, functional microbiome technology to increase crop yield and health, while protecting food safety by remediating pollutants and improving soil fertility.
Its proprietary microbiome technology blocks the uptake of heavy metals by crops on land that has been contaminated.
Its products work directly on the soil to break down pollutants and support the growth of good bacteria to restore sites to fertile land.
In addition to being of interest to the agrifood sector, MicroGen’s solutions can also be used elsewhere, such as by fossil fuel companies looking to restore sites.
The company, which has been largely focused on the Chinese market to date, has successfully registered two of its solutions with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and is now working with partners to roll out the solutions there.
It also counts Europe and North America as key growth markets and is currently in negotiations with a number of growers and global food brands who are keen to reduce the level of heavy metals in foods.
"We are very excited to successfully complete this round and look forward to the next stage of the company’s growth," said Dr. Germaine.
"We are now in a position to scale by strengthening our senior management team, closing contracts in our sales funnel, expanding production capacity, and investing in technology innovation and product development," she added
"We have developed a platform technology called constructive function microbiome that uses a microbe consortium. When applied to the plant, it provides the ability to block the uptake of heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic," Germaine explains.
"It also has a plant growth-promoting function and can be applied as a seed coating or spray."
MicroGen is hoping to gain some momentum on the back of increasing regulatory pressure forces food companies to tackle the presence of heavy metals.
A 2019 report, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, concluded that 95% of baby food contains heavy metals.
The EU and China have enacted tougher rules on heavy metal limits in foods in recent years.
In China, where 19.4% of arable land is officially classified as containing pollutants, the country has put in place a national safe food and clean soil program to reduce heavy metals.
The China Soil Pollution Control Law 2019 encourages the prioritization of bioremediation measures to prevent pollutants from entering food crops.