Ag Tech Startup Innatrix Shares Patented Tech in Internship Program
Innatrix is already training next-generation scientists how to protect crops using its newly patented platform.
The Research Triangle Park-based ag tech startup recently got the intellectual property protection for its protein evolution platform. It’s designed to screen highly specific protein ligands to safely and effectively address crop diseases such as citrus greening, potato late blight, and soybean cyst nematode.
Now Innatrix is teaming up with the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Station1 to host a 10-week internship, giving undergrad majors in STEM (science, technology engineering and math) a chance to see EvoStat in action.
“[It’s] not only important to show the interns, but also to show to the biotech industry that this new technology could contribute significantly to solving some big challenges,” Innatrix’s CEO Jiarui Li, Ph.D., said in an interview with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
He said the challenges he believes the company can help overcome include insect and pathogen resistance on ag tech products, and speeding up protein purification processes for top-selling drugs.
“With more partnerships like this, companies like Innatrix will hopefully see tremendous growth in the near future.”
The research project
As part of the Station1 collaboration, Li will work with interns on a research project that involves crop protection against the invasive weed species palmer amaranth.
Palmer amaranth is a highly aggressive pigweed that can cause up to 91% losses in corn production, and up to 71% losses in soybean production.
Though farmers have been using herbicides and other synthetic chemicals to control this invasive weed, the species has developed resistance to these compounds.
But Innatrix scientists say they have a solution.
First, they find protein sequences within human gut and soil microbes with novel modes of action to target the weed’s herbicide resistance traits. Then they use the platform to further “optimize the sequences” and evolve new protein ligands fast and efficiently to combat this aggressive weed.
“Even when weeds, pathogens and pests eventually develop a resistance to Innatrix’s protein ligands, novel evolved proteins can be rapidly created to combat them to provide long-term control,” Li explains.
Innatrix was founded in 2012 by then-CEO Marshall Edgell, Ph.D., a long-time member of the microbiology faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s also a former member of the NCBiotech board of directors.
Some insiders say the company’s platform may prove to be the next generation of phage display, a lab technique used for the high-throughput screening of protein interactions.
The startup has raised around $320,000 in external funding to date, and Li says it has plans to commercialize its technology in the near future.
“We are currently focusing on using the platform to develop biological products to control economically important and devastating crop pathogens, late blight, citrus greening and soybean cyst nematode,” he says.