Securing Tomorrow's Harvest: TurnKey Genomics' Innovative Solutions for Enhanced Crop Management and Ultimately, Food Security

By David Thompson

Apr 22, 2024 04:10 AM EDT

Turnkey Genomics(Turnkey Genomics) (Credit: Getty Image)

As the global population continues to grow, ensuring food security in the midst of climate threats, pests, diseases, and resource scarcity becomes increasingly critical. Comprehensive genomic solutions like those created by Turnkey Genomics, tailored to the agri-food industry, are more important than ever.

Along with food security, gene editing in agriculture promotes sustainability by enhancing crop resilience, improving nutritional content, increasing yields, and minimizing food waste. It is also key to preserving natural resources, minimizing environmental impact, and mitigating further climate change. Of course, agriculture is also an essential part of many global economies, particularly in rural areas, and genomic solutions are essential to the future of the agri-food industry. 

Fortunately, TurnKey Genomics, led by founder and CEO Chris Grainger, is focused on tackling the challenges facing farmers and growers and making the agri-food industry more sustainable with its innovative molecular tools, genomic technologies, and critical partnerships with seed companies and crop service organizations.  

Grainger's impressive background and passion for molecular biology, plant breeding, and genetics, combined with over two decades of experience in pivotal roles at institutions like the Canadian Center for DNA Barcoding and the Department of Plant Agriculture, provided him with the expertise he needed to develop Turnkey Genomics' cutting-edge solutions. 

Making It in Agriculture's Competitive Landscape

By addressing both crop development and crop protection, Turnkey Genomics aims to mitigate losses incurred by farmers from pests, diseases, a lack of resources, and climate change, and by doing so, it has positioned itself as a driving force in agriculture.

Turnkeys' comprehensive business model helps it stand out against the competition. Grainger explains, "We focus on a diverse range of crops beyond the major commodities like corn and soy, recognizing the value in all crops and their niches. This horizontal business model gives us an edge as we work across various agricultural sectors. Secondly, our deep understanding of the genetic traits specific to each crop species enables us to provide tailored consulting services to seed companies. Our potential for mobile genomic testing also presents a significant market opportunity, particularly in regions with underdeveloped agricultural infrastructure, positioning us for expansion beyond Ontario."

He compares what Turnkey is doing to computer engineering. "You might have the hardware, but that's not where you're going to make your money. You're making money on the software you're developing for the computer. In my opinion, that's where you would see a lot of real revenue growth. The same is true with genetic testing or molecular testing. You set up the equipment, but then you're developing the assays, or the software if you will, that the customers can then use on that select piece of equipment."

Expanding Market Reach and Technological Innovation

Turnkey Genomics is not only focused on traditional laboratory testing but also on mobilizing its genomic technology for wider market acquisition. He draws parallels between understanding virus testing pre-pandemic versus post-pandemic compared with agricultural disease detection, which is critical to proactive engagement and education in this field. 

"Often, people are unaware of what they don't know. Education plays a significant role here. It's crucial to raise awareness and provide an entry point to helping people understand the agricultural food system at its core. Interestingly, the pandemic has facilitated this conversation by highlighting the importance of testing assays for various viruses. This analogy extends to agriculture, where numerous organisms and diseases exist. By developing new products, such as assays for different organisms or improved crop varieties, we open the gateway for people to grasp the potential impact and possibilities within agriculture."

Grainger explains, "I can see the 'a-ha moment' when people finally understand just what we can actually do, like detecting blight in potatoes. That early detection is crucial in agriculture."

He adds, "During the pandemic, there was a fairly significant outbreak of a certain virus in tomatoes. It was actually decimating the greenhouse tomato industry at the very same time as COVID. We developed a quick test to identify the virus tomatoes because if that virus gets into that greenhouse, it can be devastating. In fact, one customer lost $10 million before the test was developed." Grainger adds, "This is early detection, and it is possible because DNA doesn't need a developmental cycle for it to be useful. You have the DNA you have whether you're a baby, whether you're a teenager, whether you're an adult. The same thing goes for the development of crops and animals. So you can test it at any stage of life. And so the earlier and faster testing leads to faster decision-making."

Turnkey Genomics is also revolutionizing testing processes by bringing the laboratory directly to farms, greenhouses, and grow operations. With simplified protocols and rapid turnaround times and mobility, they are enabling farmers with the ability to detect diseases and genetic traits at any crop life stage, saving time and money.  "If you're just going to go sample a few cows or pigs or a couple of weeds, sure, go out and do it because maybe the farmer wants that information as soon as possible because it is an emergency situation. Maybe the animals have to be quarantined or confined, or whatever the case may be."

Grainger explains, "All it involves is setting up our miniaturized turnkey testing equipment on-site, such as in barns or fields, using portable tables. The process includes sample collection, which could be swabs, ear clippings for animals, or leaf samples for plants, followed by DNA extraction that just takes minutes. Rapid testing using PCR or qPCR can then yield results within 30 to 45 minutes, a significant improvement from the previous lengthy processes. While technical expertise is initially required, the goal is to empower farmers with user-friendly devices, making the technology almost turnkey for widespread adoption."

"On the other side, we're talking about more volume-based business, which certainly is how it works within seed companies, and that's the main business model for Turnkey. We operate on a large volume of samples and price things competitively. And the advantage is with the seed companies because they are a long-term endeavor, year-over-year contracts," Grainger explains.  Central facilities can handle large sample volumes, while mobile testing services provide rapid results for emergencies. By embracing both approaches, Turnkey Genomics has multiple revenue streams to support its continued growth and expansion.

With Turnkey Genomics, seed companies, and growers are armed with the tools they need to succeed. Farmers can swiftly detect diseases and genetic traits through on-site point-of-care testing, enabling timely intervention and management. By optimizing agricultural practices and enhancing crop resilience, TurnKey Genomics is making important contributions to improving crop health and yields, reducing losses due to pests and diseases, and ensuring a more secure and sustainable food supply for generations.

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