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SugaROx’s new biostimulant protects wheat yields by up to 40% after drought

Agri-TechE Article
Cara Griffiths, Co-Founder and CTO of SugaROx, at REAP 2022, speaking at REAP 2022
Cara Griffiths, Co-Founder and CTO of SugaROx, at REAP 2022, speaking at REAP 2022

As erratic weather events are becoming more common, and have a detrimental effect on crop yields, a biostimulant being developed by agri-tech start-up SugaROx is attracting significant interest. It has been found to prevent yield-loss in wheat by up to 40% when applied after a drought event and can boost yields by up to 18% under typical growing conditions. The product slots seamlessly into existing agricultural practices, offering ease-of-use for farmers. The company discussed the new product at the Agri-TechE REAP 2022 Start-Up Showcase.

SugaROx is a spinout from Rothamsted Research and University of Oxford. It was formed following collaborative work published in Nature* that discovered that a modified version of a natural plant molecule, trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P), had the potential to significantly increase grain yield. In addition, application to vegetative tissues pre-flowering was found to improve plant recovery after a drought event.

Dr Cara Griffiths, Chief Technology Officer and co-inventor of the SugaROx technology, explains that T6P plays a key role in controlling sucrose utilisation, which underpins plant growth, grain development and stress responses.

She says: “The collaboration between plant biologists at Rothamsted Research and carbohydrate chemists at Oxford University resulted in the development of a modified version of T6P. This was so effective at boosting wheat yields that we decided to protect the invention, and form SugaROx to develop this technology commercially”.

Initial field trials have established proof-of-concept, and further trials are being commissioned in 2022 to determine optimal application rate and other use conditions in wheat. The potential for this biostimulant to contribute to a low-carbon economy is huge: a 15% yield boost to wheat grain yields could provide a 24% uplift in gross margin for UK farmers, while reducing CO2 emission by 11% per loaf of bread.

Further product development is occurring to cover additional broadacre crops: maize, barley, millet and sorghum with promising results. SugaROx will also be developing T6P solutions for improvement in fruit quality, flowering, and stress tolerance.

“We are essentially making plants as productive as they can be at driving nutrients and carbon resources into grain yield, making every unit of agricultural land more efficient than ever before,” says Cara.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, comments: “Increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis is a holy grail for agriculture; I am sure SugaROx’s innovative approach will attract significant interest from the agri-tech innovation ecosystem. REAP has provided profile for many exciting early-stage businesses with collaborators, end users and investors. 14 of the companies previously featured have collectively raised over £92 Million in the last three years.”

Since 2020, SugaROx has attracted over £1.4M of funding from angel and VC investors, as well as receiving funding from Defra and Innovate UK through the Farming Innovation Programme for product development and market analysis for a wheat biostimulant. This latest round of investment will enable the company to launch more extensive field trials on wheat, start the registration process in key markets and obtain proof of concept for new products ideas based on this platform technology.

Cara says that the company is keen to talk to potential investors, commercial partners, and end-users about applications to a range of crops and geographies – the product offers potential for worldwide application.

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*Chemical intervention in plant sugar signalling increases yield and resilience

REAP 2022: Making Sense of AgricultureREAP 2022: ‘Making Sense of Agriculture’ – Tuesday 8th November 2022 

From yield mapping and precision livestock through to digital twins and cloud computing, at REAP 2022 we will be exploring the technology and looking at the implications from a field to landscape level. Making technology farm-centric is core to Agri-TechE’s mission so a key feature of the conference will be a panel of farmers and producers discussing the emerging technologies and future scenarios.