27. June 2019
Microbiome: The plant protection of the future
Interview with Adrián Ferrero on decoding microbial interactions
By Sarah Liebigt
Biome Makers has literally become part of the agriculture cycle. Their technology allows measuring crop health and functional biodiversity by using DNA sequencing and intelligent computing. The results enable farmers to make better decisions regarding crop selection and fertilizers using information on the soils microbiome. Their partner Alltech is offering the matching crops.
The company started out as a start-up in genetic research. By attempting to make statements about plants and soils at micro level, Biome Makers initially wanted to make viticulture more effective. Gradually, the founders expanded their focus to the entire agricultural sector.
Farm & Food: Congratulations on becoming a member of the Pearse Lyons Accelerator Programme. Please tell us a bit about your beginnings concerning microbiome science?
Adrián Ferrero: In our first company we were applying dna sequencing in human health. And we realized that there was a huge opportunity in applying the same technology in agriculture by looking at the soil biome which is a perfect bio marker to provide the right advice to what are the right inputs for growers. We complemented this technology with an AI system that provides a functional interpretation of the soil microbiome.
Often enough, start-ups start out with two, three people. How did your team meet?
Biome makers was founded by to Hispanics, Alberto Acedo and myself, Adrián Ferrero. We met when we were five years old, we became friends. A couple years ago we were talking about this cool technology to digitalize the dna, called DNA Sequencing, and the opportunity to apply this technology to something meaningful. Today Biome Makers has 20 team members and we are combining skills in the fields of genetics, biology, software engineering and of course sales and communication.
Other companies/researchers with a focus on the cellular level chose subjects like alternative proteins, climate resistant crops etc. Why vineyards?
We decided to develop a technology to profile the whole spectrum of microbiome, and develop this AI that allows us to provide an understanding of how the BeCrops impact and what they are telling. Our families produce wine in Spain, so that was the perfect place to start. So we did life trials, we started talking to the industry and we narrowed down the value proposition for farmers. Now our technology platform is ready to expand to other crops. Actually we are working with seven different crops worldwide.
How did you approach winegrowers? Please tell us a bit about your “first contact” and the following process/relationships.
When we started Biome Makers we had the opportunity to develop different pilots with the industry. So that was the first time we were talking to our future clients. It was a very useful experience. We learned a lot about the questions, their uncertainties and at the end how to deliver value to them. Today we have over 250 growers working with us and the number keeps growing.
With BeCrop you offer an “all-in-one” genetic soil microbiome assessment. Are you also offering consultation on how to make use of the test results?
We started with our first product called Winesec, specifically designed for the wine industry. Then we expanded to other crops with a product called BeCrop. We launched it just recently, it is an all-in-one test for any crop. We are not providing advice; we are not substituting the farmers. What we are doing is delivering functional interpretation of the soil microbiome, which in the end is useful to make decisions regarding fertilizers etc.
Any advice for start-ups around the globe?
Our advice for other start-ups is that if they have a clear vision of what the product is and what the opportunity; push through it. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself or to go beyond your boundaries. Of course there are always difficulties, but if you dream it, it will happen. There are a lot of investors, that are jumping into the agtech arena, there are a lot of clients that are moving more into innovation all around the world. Agriculture is very traditional, but a new generation of farmers are very into the digital era.
Where do you picture your company in five, six years? What is Biome working on in 2025 except the microbiome?
Our big picture is to build a unique data set, that will allow us to partner up with the industry and to start developing a solution for unsolved problems in agriculture. Our goal is to match soil needs with the right product. And that is something we started working on with the Pearse Lyons accelerator. We are working with the Alltech crop science division to profile the impact of their products in agriculture.