Ten months into a pilot project aimed at exploring the potential of next-generation sequencing and other advanced technologies in developing new products for crop protection, Dow AgroSciences and Radiant Genomics are seeing such promising results that they’re expanding their partnership. Their mutual goal is to build a natural product discovery platform so powerful that it slashes the time required to identify new lead molecules from multiple years to mere months.
“This isn’t just another way to do natural product discovery,” says Radiant Genomics cofounder Oliver Liu. “This will be the only way to do natural product discovery going forward.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Dow AgroSciences broke new ground in its development of spinosad, a highly selective insecticide made by a soil microorganism that controls many chewing insect pests but does not persist in the environment and has low toxicity for mammals and birds.
In its partnership with Radiant Genomics, based in Emeryville, California, Dow AgroSciences is still looking to nature for inspiration. But rather than using petri dishes to grow organisms in cultures, they’re using digital infrastructure, such as sequencing and bioinformatics, to discover new chemistry.
The big advantage of this approach is that Radiant Genomics’ team of ten bioinformaticists, software developers and molecular engineers can efficiently find many silent, unexpressed gene clusters that encode chemistry that’s never been discovered. By “running the ‘software,’” the team can access a massive pool of unexplored genetic diversity and employ strategies to systematically express the genes that encode its chemistry.
Ultimately, the team can transfer this DNA to production hosts that can be easily grown and engineered in the laboratory. This has the potential to greatly accelerate the process of natural product discovery, not only in agriculture but in a half-dozen other areas in which the team is developing partnerships, including pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, biomanufacturing, and specialty chemicals.
It was a meeting arranged through mutual colleagues that led to Radiant Genomics’ initial collaboration with Dow AgroSciences, based in Indianapolis. Liu calls the decision to expand the partnership a “significant validation of our technology and our team.”
“Collaboration is an approach we like at Dow AgroSciences and we use with groups all over the world from Australia and Germany to India and China. We work to build a set of objectives that are shared and align with our partners, while building trust and relationships,” said Steve Webb, PhD, External Technology and Intellectual Property Portfolio Development Leader at Dow AgroSciences.
Dow AgroSciences will own the rights to all new products that come out of the partnership, while Radiant Genomics will own the rights to all improvements to the platform.
“It’s essentially a partnership to build Version 2 of our platform,” says Liu. “It’s a win/win.”
A graduate of Harvard who completed his Ph.D. at the UC San Francisco, Liu co-founded Radiant Genomics in 2012 with Jeffrey Kim, a colleague he had met at Amyris, a renewable products company established by a group of scientists at the UC Berkeley. A Princeton graduate, Kim completed his Ph.D. research at Rockefeller University where he developed new methods for natural product discovery. In the classic Silicon Valley tradition, Kim volunteered his basement for the firm’s early development.