Apr 26, 2022
By Mohan Iyer
Climate Crop: Small Edit, Big Impact

Photosynthesis wastes sunlight. Many scientific efforts are underway to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis to increase yields. None of these efforts have translated from research/academia into the field. Others are too complicated for real world applications. Climate Crop – decades in the making at Weizmann Institute – will outgrow them all. They have found a side door to improve photosynthesis across thousands of plants, based on deep research on regulating leaf starch biosynthesis. During the day, plants increase their storage of transient starch; at night, they use this starch as building blocks for all cell matter. Climate Crop’s IP and technology relies on a small non-GM edit to increase starch synthesis in leaves resulting in crops with significantly increased yields, crops with resilience to survive extreme weather events, and a new route to more plant biomass for carbon sequestration. 

They have already observed dramatic yield jumps – 91% in potatoes, 40% Canola, 24% Sorghum. This appears to work in all vascular plants. It’s simple, yet powerful. Climate Crop’s potential is huge – it can power applications across both agriculture and industrial markets. Their current focus is on food crops, but it’s only a matter of time before they can be a powerful enabler of higher yielding cotton, carbon-sucking poplars, cheap aviation fuel from rapeseed, and beyond. The sky’s the limit.

Yehuda Borenstein, CEO of Climate Crop, is a no-nonsense experienced operator and entrepreneur from Israel. As with every conversation with him, we quickly cut the chase on a few questions we posed to him below:

I was just overhearing an investor talking to you just now. He was amazed by the yield improvements with such a small change to a single protein, and was asking, what’s the “catch?” Let’s start there, is there a catch? 

Yeah, this is often the first question we get. Our results look too good to be true. In fact, this is the question I asked myself when I first got into this. I asked so many experts in plant biology to verify this, including one friend who works at one of the large agricultural companies. He looked hard at all our data and came to the conclusion that we have actually landed on a way to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis. This was consistent with actual tests that my cofounders and original inventors, Vivek and Erez, performed while at Weizmann which showed a 15% increase in photosynthesis efficiency even in an unoptimized setting. When you are able to do this, seemingly magical things start to happen, which is why we have such great results. We have also been testing the nutrient content of our products, such as canola oil and it looks exactly the same as the reference standards, the results for potato will be available soon. There’s no reason for a catch; it is as real as our larger potatoes and higher yields we are observing across many crops and plants.  

What’s your business model?

We are going to be a seed company. We are going to take open varieties, upgrade them, and send them to end customers. Amazing technology, boring business model. Simple and proven. Since this mechanism exists in all vascular plants, we can partner with every ag company in the world, and still have thousands of plants to improve and take to market.

Yehuda, you are an experienced entrepreneur having started several companies. What did you get out of the IndieBio program? 

We joined IndieBio literally a few weeks after we established the company. We didn’t have clarity about our added value and the best way to capture that value. We also didn’t have a clear priority on the crops we wanted to work on. During the program, we gained an understanding of how to build the business, where our added value truly lay, and got a much better handle on the optimal business model. I think that clarity around who we are and how we can go forward is truly the solid foundation we needed for our company. 

The proof is in the potatoes — yield results from early trials with potato crops.

What’s next for you?

First, I am going to be sad for a week after leaving this program. It was an amazing experience here where you gave us a framework and many many tools for how to build our business. Even more importantly, you shifted our mindset for the better in many ways, big and small. This is priceless and so hard to get anywhere else, especially in Israel. Even as an experienced entrepreneur, I learned many important things. We will move full speed ahead now – we will pick the right crops, the right investors to partner with us for the long term, move the company to the US since the markets are here, and go for it with great execution!