Biotech company raises $5m to improve forage feed quality

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Amfora is focusing its forage research on improving the energy level of feed crops destined for dairy feed, says executive. 

The California-based biotech start-up closed its series A funding round Wednesday, which garnered $5m, said Lloyd Kunimoto, CEO of Amfora. The financing will allow for research and development for forage crop improvement.

“Amfora will use the Series A proceeds to develop forage crops with increased energy density, which will improve the efficiency of animal protein production, including milk production,” he told FeedNavigator.  “Other traits to enhance the nutritional value of forage crops will also be developed, although I am not prepared to further discuss these traits at this time.” 

The company is starting its research work with a focus on forages and silages that can be fed to dairy cattle, he said. “Dairy is our initial focus because dairy cattle need to have a diet supplemented with high-oil ingredients in order to optimize milk production and forage corn is a primary component of feed for dairy cattle,” he added. 

The altered forage crops are intended to make milk production more efficient, said Kunimoto. “We estimate that the value of increasing energy density in forage corn for dairy in the US alone is approximately $2-3bn."

Funding process

The initial funding drive was led by the San Francisco-based Spruce Capital, said Amfora. The company acts as a co-manager of the MLS Fund II.

Contributors included the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian national science agency.

At this point, there are plans for a series B funding drive, which could potentially start in the next 18 to 24 months after the company reaches specific development milestones, said Kunimoto.

Feed crop development

The research is part of the company’s overarching goal, which is to help address the global demand for animal protein products, like meat and milk, generated by the expanding middle classes and developing countries, he said. Research will be done in the US and Australia and field trials may be done in both countries.

“Amfora's founders noted that technology that had initially been developed to increase oil content of biofuels feedstock crops could be redeployed to increase oil content in forage and silage crops, making them a more efficient source of animal feed,” he said.

The redesigned forages will have a higher oil content contained in the “vegetative tissue,” which is intended to increase the calorie level, he said. “Oil is essentially replacing starch as a component of the forage crop,” he added.

“Amfora is not intending to replace forage, but introduce crops currently used as forage that have higher energy density, such as forage corn, alfalfa and sorghum,” he said.

In addition to work with corn, the company is working with CSIRO on other feed crops, said Kunimoto. “We are also developing sorghum in collaboration with CSIRO, as sorghum is both a commercially interesting forage crop as well as a model crop for corn, and we can utilize the results of increase the energy density of sorghum to increase the energy density of corn,” he added. 

“While other labs have worked to increase oil content of crops, CSIRO's researchers have been the most successful, and working with CSIRO will significantly accelerate Amfora's development of crops with increased energy density,” he said of the partnership. “In conjunction with CSIRO's investment in Amfora, CSIRO granted an exclusive license to Amfora to CSIRO's technology to increase oil content in plants in specified forage crops including forage corn.”

The work is expected to cover several crops, including forage corn and crops like sorghum, he said.  

However, improving the amount of energy generated by the forage or silage crop will not be the only factor considered, Kunimoto said. The company is also tracking other traits for its crops including drought resistance.

“The germplasm that will be enhanced with Amfora's technology will have a full complement of agronomic characteristics such as drought tolerance,” he said. “Our initial field trials will include testing of crops with enhanced agronomic traits such as increased drought tolerance, combined with Amfora's traits that enhance the nutritional value of crops.”

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