Concert Bio

This interview details Concert Bio, a company based in the UK. The interview is with Dr. Paul Rutten, Founder & CEO of Concert Bio.

Source: Concert Bio

What is the origin story of Concert Bio?

When I was doing my PhD at Oxford, we often discussed the challenge of using microbes to help plants grow. There is no doubt that microbes are hugely beneficial for plants – so much so that plants can’t really grow without them. But soil is teeming with microbes, and often very different microbes from one field to the next. That infamously makes it difficult for any microbial product to reliably improve plant growth, since you’re adding a small number of species (or even just one) to many tens of thousands of existing microbes. And survival of the fittest is extremely fierce for microbes!

As I was finishing my PhD, I kept hearing about the booming hydroponic growing industry. I became very interested because hydroponics seemed much more promising as a place to apply microbes to help plants. There are much less existing microbes, often of the wrong kind, and unlike fields greenhouses and vertical farms are (microbially) similar everywhere in the world. I decided to learn more about how microbes are managed by hydroponic growers. So, I spent three months talking to people in the industry. What I learned is that the surface has barely been scratched when it comes to harnessing the microbiome in soilless systems. Growers told me there was a lot more to gain and they really wanted to better use microbes, and that’s why I started Concert Bio.

Source: Concert Bio

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Concert Bio in the future?

On the product side, the next step for us is to conduct commercial trials. We’ve had great results testing our candidate microbes in in-house plant trials. But the move to commercial testing brings many new challenges because there is still a lot that hasn’t been worked out about the right way to add microbes to a commercial hydroponic system. For example, where in the system should microbes be introduced? How do we add them in a way that’s compatible with things like ozone, UV filters and nanobubbles? How do we make sure they’re compatible with all the different substrates that are out there? All of these are problems we’re currently solving.

On the market side, the rise and fall of vertical farming has been a challenge for us when explaining our work to others. We work with vertical farms, but our focus has always been on greenhouses since they are most of the market. For a lot of people, including investors, the challenges of vertical farming have brought the whole industry in question – when nothing could be further from the truth.

What is unique about Concert Bio compared to competitors?

Most growers tell us that they’ve tried adding microbes to their system in the past without effect. Looking at products that are out there on the market now, we realised they’re based on the microbes that plants need in soil. They’re not adapted for hydroponic systems. We’ve been working with growers to analyse their microbiome, and we’ve repeatedly seen that these products don’t survive in hydroponic systems, even with sterilization turned off. Many of these microbes are also trying to be helpful in ways that don’t apply in hydroponics – think of mycorrhizal fungi, which help plants extract and share nutrients from soil. Even if the mycorrhizae survive and grow, they won’t be much help to plants growing separately in a nutrient dense solution.

At Concert Bio we’ve instead focused on microbes for hydroponics from day one. We set out to find completely new microbes, instead of looking at the “usual suspects” of soil biostimulant microbes which struggle in hydroponics. Our strategy is to find microbes which thrive in hydroponic systems and which help plants with the unique challenges of soilless growth. To do this, we’ve set up a monitoring service for growers that opens their microbiome black box for them. By using third generation sequencing we help growers track all beneficial and pathogenic microbes and take control of their microbiome. Working with growers on this service also gives us the data we need to find the right microbes. We’re the only company providing that kind of service to growers and leveraging it to develop good microbes for them.

What are some other relevant metrics of the company (growing area size, production quantity, team size, etc.)?

We’re a team of 8, based in the UK. With the help of our customers and collaborators we’ve been able to analyse over 20,000 microbe species from 30+ sites. Thanks to that data we’ve been able to find microbes that have never been investigated for beneficial activity before, and so far they’ve improved yields by up to 18.1% in plant trials.

There’s one other metric that we use as an aspirational target. When somebody has a damaged microbiome (e.g. because of an antibiotic treatment), doctors can restore their microbiome with a gut microbiome transplant. We’ve done the same thing in hydroponic systems to see what happens if you restore the entire microbiome. We’ve tested this both in-house and with commercial growers, and have seen yield improvements of up to 57%. Transplants are unfortunately too complicated to produce as a commercial product. But they show exactly how much potential there is to improve plant growth by adding the right microbes in hydroponic systems. Getting growers that 57% is our target as a company. 

What are some goals in 2024 and beyond for Concert Bio?

We’re excited to be taking our most promising microbial product candidates into commercial trials this year. We’ve already started designing trials with growers in the UK and the Netherlands to demonstrate both the efficacy of these products and figure out the best way to apply them at scale. We’re still looking for more growers to work with! These trials are paving the way to our first product sales, which we aim to begin this year. The UK is a natural starting point for us, but we’re also hard at work to get our product into the EU and US as soon as possible. 

We’re also going to be launching our first public hydroponic tomato monitoring service this year, having already done preliminary work with leading growers in the UK. We’re looking forward to developing our first AI models dedicated to tomatoes and leveraging all the things we’ve learned from studying leafy greens for the last two years.

How can people connect with you or learn more about Concert Bio?

People can connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on X or reach out via our website.

Source: Concert Bio

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