Launch HN: Boost Biomes (YC S19) – Microbes for better crop yields, shelf life

75 points | by jbacher 115 days ago

12 comments

  • pazimzadeh 115 days ago

    I was under the impression that the presence of fungi often boosts crop yields, not the other way around. i.e. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28708056

    I'm assuming that when you say microbes, you mean bacteria. What about using engineered fungi, which often already act as pesticides? i.e. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28905488

    • jbacher 115 days ago

      From the pub you reference, it looks like some fungi can be beneficial. But many are not - many fungi cause wilts, rots, etc.

      We only use naturally-occurring microbes, without genetic engineering. We focus on the unit of the cell, rather than the unit of the gene, to make our products.

      • pazimzadeh 113 days ago

        Are you able to target detrimental fungi while sparing nitrogen-fixing species, along with those that naturally prey on insects?

      • rotexo 115 days ago

        Elsewhere in the comments they say that their consortium includes a yeast isolate. Yeast are fungi.

      • aldoushuxley001 115 days ago

        I dig the concept and the name. Have you done any testing? (greenhouse or field)

        In regards to the "consortia" products, how many different species/genera/etc. are we talking about here? Is it just bacteria or are fungi part of this? What about e.g. nematodes, etc.

        Would love to get some more info, but currently website is a little light on the details. Otherwise, kudos and good work. The more development in this space the better.

        • jbacher 115 days ago

          We've done over 25 field trials, including post-harvest trials.

          The first consortia we've assembled is just two members, one bacteria and one yeast. We envision that it can get pretty complex (but probably won't include multicellular organisms like nematodes).

          • aldoushuxley001 115 days ago

            Interesting that you’re inoculating with yeast. I imagine it’s a very particular strain? Seems like yeast would be everywhere and in the soils already, but I guess maybe not in the required amount?

            How are you profiling the microbial ecosystem anyway? E.g. how do you know that 2+ species actually work synergistically with one another? I suspect a lot of trial and error based on what your profiling data suggests?

            Sry for the many questions, it’s a fascinating topic.

            • jbacher 115 days ago

              Yes, it's an uncommon yeast - not Saccharomyces. And, yes, the product is meant to 'bring forward' the effects from these members of the soil microbiome, from minor players to treatments at higher concentration.

              The microbial ecology work comes from Adam's lab at LBNL. His tech (that Boost has licensed) experimentally determines interactions (ie, causative relationships, not correlations).

        • brenschluss 115 days ago

          Have you thought about the potential harmful side effects this might cause, and what are your thoughts/strategies on it?

          ‘Controlling the environment to make things better’ has a spotty history (DDT, Monsanto, etc), and I would evaluate good biotech/agtech by how they are actively thinking about these issues.

          • jbacher 115 days ago

            The microbes we're using as products come from the soil. The tech to identify them uses understanding the interaction between microbes, so that we can thoughtfully determine which microbes are best suited for a product - we can exclude candidates with any known toxicity issues or negative externalities.

            Biological pesticides have a much lower threshold for regulatory approval specifically because they are deemed safer than chemical pesticides.

            Customers like replacing their chemical pesticides with our product to lower residual levels of chemicals on their produce. Other countries have more restrictive MRLs (maximum residue levels) permitted on imports than the US does, so products like these are valuable.

            • carapace 115 days ago

              To me it sounds like your 'consortia' are much like what Permaculture calls 'guilds': sets of species that work together synergistically.

              • jbacher 115 days ago

                I'm not familiar with Permaculture, but yes, that sounds right.

          • rbart 115 days ago

            Are these synthetic bio constructs of the single bacterium and yeast? Or are these soil isolates?

            • jbacher 115 days ago

              These are soil isolates - no generic engineering of the strains. One of the lead product active ingredients includes both the bacterium and the yeast.

            • billiamyu 115 days ago

              Love the work that you guys are doing here - coming up with permutations of natural basic organisms that may result in synergistic effects for human consumer benefit!

              Have you found any interesting, but not marketable interactions while looking for viable solutions?

              Is Boost Biomes planning on granting academic or other licensing to other parties?

              • jbacher 115 days ago

                Interesting question! We're not currently granting licenses, but may be interested in research collaborations in the future. We did find one very interesting mystery, three morphotypes of a single bacteria (as determined by 16S sequence), that could grow together and influence each others' frequency in the population.

              • carapace 115 days ago

                How do you track changes in micro-ecosystems over time?

                How aware are you guys of the recent work in mycoremediation?

                Congratulations and good luck.

                • jbacher 115 days ago

                  Thanks for the good wishes!

                  We can track changes in the micro-ecosystems by sequencing the soil or root metagenomes. We aren't doing this yet, but it's on the path forward.

                • autojoechen 115 days ago

                  Can you share any data on how the consortia works relative to existing products on the market?

                  • jbacher 115 days ago

                    In grapes, our lead consortium prevented botrytis, a key fungal pathogen, to a level statistically indistinguishable from chemical pesticides. Biological don't typically do that well.

                    We anticipate benefits that we have yet to prove: higher efficacy, lower risk that the target will evolve resistance, and better persistence in the soil.

                  • baron816 115 days ago

                    Best of luck. Something like 25% of food that’s grown won’t be eaten because of, among other things, spoilage. Keeping food fresh for longer would mean not using as much land or as much fertilizer for agriculture.

                    • refurb 115 days ago

                      Isn’t a decent amount of spoilage due to processes internal to the product (e.g. over ripening) versus some external microbe?

                      • jbacher 115 days ago

                        Yes. There are other companies that seek to preserve freshness. Our products specifically target fungal infections.

                      • jbacher 115 days ago

                        Thanks! In the US, >50% if fruits and vegetables are wasted. (Not all because of fungal rot, of course.)

                      • all2 115 days ago

                        I am concerned that a one-size-fits-all approach could introduce in invasive species to regions that don't have them.

                        What steps are you taking to prevent damaging existing ecosystems with your products?

                        • jbacher 115 days ago

                          The types of microbes used in our products naturally occur in the soil. Our products pass through the required registration processes to ensure safety.

                          • all2 113 days ago

                            Yes, but which soil and sourced from where? This is an insufficient answer to the question "will our selection of microbes destroy existing biomes?"

                        • senith 115 days ago

                          Very nice! How is this different from compost teas & ACT?

                          • person_of_color 115 days ago

                            Off topic but are there any startups working on GM foods that modify food to increase protein/nutrient content for poor communities with systemic deficiencies?

                            • jbacher 115 days ago

                              I'm not aware of these.

                              There are a number of meat-replacement startup companies, developing replacements for fish, chicken, beef, etc., either by formulating products with protein or animal cells, or with vegetable protein that is formulated to taste and mouthfeel of actual meat.

                            • alpineShu 111 days ago

                              really impressed by your work! Best wishes for the demo day!