MicroGen Biotech raises €3.47m to reduce heavy metals in soil

6 May 2020

Image: © nataba/Stock.adobe.com

The start-up, which aims to ensure better soil health and food safety, will use the fresh funding to expand production and invest in new tech.

MicroGen Biotech, a start-up that was spun out of IT Carlow, has raised €3.47m ($3.8m) in its latest funding round. The company has raised €7.8m since it was established in 2012.

The round was led by Kansas-based Fulcrum Global Capital, with participation from agritech accelerator Yield Lab Europe and Enterprise Ireland.

The start-up’s proprietary technology aims to improve soil health and food safety. The project began at IT Carlow’s EnviroCore research group, before it was spun out and recognised as a high potential start-up (HPSU) by Enterprise Ireland.

Soil solution

The company, which is led by Dr Xuemei Germaine, applies constructed, functional microbiome technology to increase crop yield and health while protecting food safety by remediating pollutants and improving soil fertility.

Its technology blocks the uptake of heavy metals by crops on land that has been contaminated, by working directly on the soil to break down pollutants and support the growth of good bacteria to restore sites to fertile land.

“We have developed a platform technology called constructive function microbiome that uses a microbe consortium,” Germaine said. “When applied to the plant, it provides the ability to block the uptake of heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. It also has a plant growth-promoting function and can be applied as a seed coating or spray.”

As well as being used in the agrifood sector, MicroGen Biotech’s solution can be used by fossil fuel companies that want to restore sites. To date, the company has largely focused on the Chinese market, successfully registering two of its solutions with the Chinese ministry of agriculture.

The funding

The Carlow-based business also counts Europe and North America as key growth markets and is in negotiations with a number of growers and global food brands. It plans to use the latest round of funding to expand production and invest in new technology.

“We are very excited to successfully complete this round and look forward to the next stage of the company’s growth,” Germaine said. “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.”

MicroGen Biotech also said that it hopes to gain some momentum on the back of increasing regulatory pressure, which will force food companies to tackle the presence of heavy metals in soil.

In 2019, China introduced a soil pollution control law, which encourages the prioritisation of bioremediation measures to prevent pollutants from entering food crops. A study conducted between 2005 and 2013 suggested that 19.4pc of arable land in China is contaminated.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic