How ZeaKal’s Trait Technology Plans to Supercharge Cannabis and Hemp Growth

Behind Canopy Rivers’ investment of US$10 million in ZeaKal, Inc.

Relative to traditional crops (such as rice, corn, soy, etc.), cannabis cultivation is still in its infancy – lacking sophistication and research due to decades of widespread prohibition. Faced with the looming threat of crop failures, pests, disease, and climate volatility, licensed cannabis producers are continually seeking ways to boost the quantity and quality of their harvest.

Plant genetics are fundamentally important to the sustainable improvement of crops grown indoors and outdoors. If genetics are considered the foundation of a plant, a plant trait helps to protect or enhance that foundation. Simply put, by influencing plant traits, one can produce desired characteristics to increase the productivity of agriculture, influencing areas such as growth, plant vigor, oil production, drought tolerance, and/or disease resistance.

The industry is hungry for a blockbuster trait that can dramatically deliver on productivity - and San Diego-based ZeaKal has already developed it. (Tweet) The company’s patented PhotoSeed technology is the first and only seed trait proven to increase the photosynthetic capacity of plants while also sustaining increases in yield.  Having already demonstrated positive field trial results with multiple crops such as soy and rice, PhotoSeed is capable of boosting seed yield and seed oil content well above industry standard.

This solution could provide a crucial yield advantage to cannabis and hemp producers and processors, translating into accelerated growth rates, bigger bud harvests, enriched cannabinoid output, and higher oil production, creating game-changing competitive advantages for cannabis producers

The global seed trait market has massive growth potential – it’s estimated to reach US$113 billion by 2022. What’s more, seed traits for agricultural products have an impressive track record, with exits ranging from US$400 million to over US$1 billion. Fully realized, ZeaKal’s technology could signal millions – and even billions – of dollars in value creation for the cannabis and hemp industry.

That’s why Canopy Rivers is excited to make an investment of US$10 million in ZeaKal. Backed by strong partnerships with powerhouse agriculture conglomerate Corteva Agriscience (NYSE: CTVA), ZeaKal has the foundation necessary to scale quickly and, in the process, fundamentally improve the way cannabis and hemp grow. As one of the largest corn and soy seed companies in the world, Corteva’s resources and expertise significantly increase ZeaKal’s product development scope and reduce PhotoSeed’s time-to-market.

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How PhotoSeed translates into success for growers

One of the most dramatic ways to improve cannabis crop yield is by making photosynthesis more efficient, as sunlight is a critical ingredient for plant growth.  Photosynthesis is a complex process, comprising several intersecting biochemical pathways that lead to unpredictable outcomes when changes are introduced.

ZeaKal is solving for one of the toughest challenges in agriculture: how to increase yield in a sustainable way (Tweet). Through PhotoSeed, a simple two-gene modification, ZeaKal has unlocked the only proven approach that can sustain efficiency improvements in photosynthesis while overcoming intricate feedback mechanisms.  Originally created to stabilize and elevate the oil content in leaf tissue, ZeaKal realized that PhotoSeed can, by extension, reliably enhance a plant’s photosynthetic capacity. In other words, PhotoSeed optimizes the way plants create energy, potentially allowing cannabis crops to harvest more sunlight, capture more carbon dioxide and produce more harvestable material.

The PhotoSeed trait embeds yield increases at the seed stage of a plant’s life cycle, irrespective of pest and weed-control resistance.  It’s also an environmentally friendly solution that does not require additional inputs, such as fertilizers or pesticides, to be effective. Every seed producer has their own set of valuable and proprietary genetics and, through its plant trait technology, ZeaKal can enhance those genetics to provide competitive advantages. This is what makes PhotoSeed so valuable to Canopy Rivers.

Behind ZeaKal is a talented team of plant scientists, molecular biologists, and biochemists, led by experienced CEO and venture capital investor Han Chen and the “father of agricultural biotechnology,” Dr. Jerry Caulder. Notably, Dr. Caulder has an unparalleled record of success in the life science and ag-biotech industries, including a billion-dollar exit. Collectively, over the course of their careers, the team is responsible for five exits in the life sciences sector, has successfully raised over US$100 million in venture capital, and owns 22 patents.

Powerful potential for cannabis and hemp

PhotoSeed’s positive results across multiple crops support Canopy Rivers’ thesis that this technology could have fundamental benefits for the cannabis and hemp industry through increased yield and oil production. Canopy Rivers is excited to work with ZeaKal to help cultivators grow greater quantities of high-quality cannabis on a smaller environmental footprint.

Meet the world's next blockbuster plant trait, backed by Canopy Rivers. (Tweet)

Syndicated from the Financial Post.