Pivot Bio broke the code on using microbes to get crops to self-fertilize, allowing farmers to replace their synthetic fertilizers. It’s now worth nearly $2 billion.

In July 2021 the company raised $430 million led by venture firm DCVC and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. The investment brings the agricultural technology startup’s funding to more than $600 million at a valuation of nearly $2 billion.

“I don’t think there’s ever been something like that in agriculture,” Temme, the company’s 41-year-old CEO, says of the massive cash influx. “We are starting to see where innovation can disrupt sectors of this industry.”

Temme, who grew up in Casper, Wyoming, received his bachelor’s and master’s in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa before moving to California for his Ph.D. While in the lab of professor Chris Voigt, an early pioneer in synthetic biology who is now at MIT, he decided to explore whether crops could be made to self-fertilize. “The concept of crops being able to self-fertilize is more than 100 years old,” he says. “I was naïve enough to set my sights on this impossible problem for agriculture.”

With Pivot Bio, Temme and Tamsir reverse-engineered the DNA in microbes in the crop’s root microbiome, allowing the reprogrammed microbes to sense the nutrient needs of the crop and produce the right levels of nitrogen for them. They essentially reactivated long-dormant nitrogen-producing capabilities that already exist in soil microbes’ DNA. “That has been in hibernation since we started using fertilizer,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s wake that part of the microbiome back up.’”  READ MORE