Among the many threats it monitors, the Pentagon is worried about rubber.

It needs the natural stuff, from rubber trees, for aircraft and truck tires. Synthetic rubber doesn’t perform as well. If the Asian nations that produce 90% of the world’s latex should ever be hit by the same fungus that severely limits production in South America, the supply of this essential commodity would be in danger.

That’s why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s innovation arm, is funding Edison Agrosciences, a 39 North startup company that thinks it can produce rubber from sunflowers.

Since moving here in 2016, Edison has been able to collaborate with the Danforth Plant Science Center, hire a Maryland Heights firm called MOgene for genetics work and share an expensive piece of equipment with another BioGenerator-funded startup. Edison also won a $50,000 Arch Grant in 2019.

“There are great resources in Raleigh-Durham, but I was here and I felt the ecosystem was superior here for plant biotechnology opportunities,” said Edison’s Chief Executive David Woodburn. READ MORE