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Foray Bioscience is breaking down barriers to bringing biomanufacturing to plants

Ashley Beckwith spent years of her academic and professional career focusing on the intersection of biology, materials, and manufacturing to more efficiently build medical solutions. When she realized that this technology could be applied to plants and plant-based materials, she decided to switch direction because it was an area that desperately needed it.

“Life on Earth is only as good as the global plant population, and today our plant population is in real crisis,” Beckwith told TechCrunch. “Nearly 40% of plant species are threatened with extinction. Untouched forest landscapes have shrunk by 12%.” [in 2022]“These plant resources are being squeezed from all sides.”

Beckwith used her knowledge of biomanufacturing, the process of using microorganisms and cell cultures to produce biological molecules and materials at a commercial scale, to found Foray Bioscience in February 2022. The company uses biomanufacturing techniques to grow plant materials, seeds, and molecules that don’t need to be harvested.

Beckwith said biomanufacturing has been around for about 100 years, but until now, there have been few real-world examples of its use in plants. Because each plant is so different, there is no one-size-fits-all cell culture method, which makes biomanufacturing using plant cell culture laborious. Foray hopes to change this with its database approach; it provides predictive insights and experimental guidance to help speed up the research and development process for each plant.

“At Foray, we’re developing these advanced tools for fabless production to reduce consumption of these resources and start returning more,” Beckwith said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup raised $3 million in seed funding led by ReGen Ventures, an Australian firm focused on backing technologies that help restore the planet’s resources. Engine Ventures, Understorey Ventures, and Superorganism also participated in the round. The startup has now raised $3.875 million in total funding and plans to build out its team.

Beckwith said raising the round took a while because what the company is trying to do doesn’t fit neatly into one category, but rather crosses over into multiple fields, from manufacturing to biology to conservation. Beckwith is used to that “weird feeling.” She said she started the company because the plant biomanufacturing research she was doing didn’t have a natural home.

“I was in a weird interdisciplinary bubble,” Beckwith said. “It became very clear to me as I was approaching the end of my Ph.D. that if this research was going to move forward, I had to take it to the next iteration. Because of the newness of the field, there wasn’t really a space for it in either the academic environment or the manufacturing environment. We had to carve out our own space.”

She describes taking science out of the lab and starting a company as a “long journey.” The startup is currently working with other companies to help them build their biomanufacturing businesses by designing their R&D roadmaps and helping them develop commercialization strategies.

Beckwith also envisions that this work will enable Faure to create a gene bank system for plant seeds, especially those that are not easily documented, and allow new seeds to be grown from just a few cells. This will also aid conservation efforts.

Foray’s technology and mission share many similarities with the rise of lab-grown meat and seafood. Beckwith said that while the science isn’t exactly the same, the goal is the same: to replace products and resources that humans are used to taking from nature with lab-grown products and resources that are less harmful to the natural environment. Although lab-grown meat is a little slower in development, Beckwith is optimistic about Foray’s future.

“As our population continues to grow in size, our demand for natural resources continues to grow, and we have to use those natural resources as efficiently as possible in order to preserve them over the long term,” Beckwith said. “This tool really allows us to push past the natural limits that exist in the wider world and get more with less, so that we can reduce our consumption of those natural resources while still getting the goods that we need to survive as a society.”

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