Next-generation biofertilizer startup sets out to tackle climate change with synthetic biology and microbes.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 25, 2022: Switch Bioworks, a startup developing sustainable biofertilizer, announced today it raised $4.3 million in pre-seed funding led by Anthos Capital and Acre Venture Partners, joined by Emerson Collective and several others. This round of financing will catalyze research and development of symbiotic microbes that displace chemical nitrogen fertilizer and its many negative environmental side effects.

“We are pioneering a new bioengineering strategy that turns microbes naturally living on plant roots into sustainable mini fertilizer factories. Our synthetic biology-based approach gives us precise control over microbial fertilizer production, which comes with many performance optimizing advantages that could revolutionize the feasibility of biofertilizer,” said Dr. Tim Schnabel, founder and CEO of Switch Bioworks.

Fertilizer is critical to agriculture, comprising a $200+ billion industry that sustains food production for half the world’s population. Unfortunately, most nitrogen fertilizer is currently based on fossil fuels and its production and application detrimental to climate and planet health. Side effects include the release of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas that warms the planet over 250X more than CO2 – and nitrate runoff that leads to waterway contamination and biodiversity collapse. More recently, national security implications of fertilizer access have also moved into the center of attention, as prices skyrocket due to COVID-stricken supply chains and the mounting geopolitical conflict involving Russia, one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers.

Calling for new solutions, the National Academy of Engineering has named “Managing the Nitrogen Cycle” one of 14 Engineering Grand Challenges of the 21st century, and the USDA earlier this year announced $250 million for innovative and sustainable American fertilizer production.

Switch Bioworks has a novel approach for boosting biofertilizer performance that was developed by Dr. Schnabel and Prof. Elizabeth Sattely at Stanford University. Historically, there has been a tradeoff between a microbe’s ability to grow in soil and its nitrogen fertilizer production due to basic energy and nutrient constraints. This tradeoff has been a major roadblock for biofertilizer performance that Switch Bioworks aims to disrupt, by engineering microbes to switch states. This controlled, next-generation approach enables microbes to first optimize for growth and then fertilizer production. It could not only be a planet saving innovation but also cheaper than chemical fertilizer for farmers.

“With the clock ticking on climate change, we need innovations – now! The technology behind Switch Bioworks is a huge opportunity for the biofertilizer space because of the unparalleled precision and tunability it enables,” said Emily White, President of Anthos Capital.

Switch Bioworks is backed by founding advisors including Stanford Bioengineering Chair Jennifer Cochran, Prof. Elizabeth Sattely, Prof. James Swartz, and Disney and Procter & Gamble board member Amy Chang. David Delaney, former COO of PotashCorp (now Nutrien, the world’s largest fertilizer company), recently joined the Switch Bioworks advisory board to support its next-generation vision for global agriculture. The company is based in San Carlos, California, and is actively recruiting.