RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Agricultural startup IngateyGen, LLC , a portfolio company of AgTechInventures, LLC, recently moved from Elizabeth City to Research Triangle Park and is already reaping benefits from the area’s rich resources. The company is working to use gene-editing technology to produce low allergy peanut varieties.
“It became important for IngateyGen to move to RTP to scale up our research capabilities, with higher opportunities for collaborative research with local businesses and universities; attract more non-dilutive funding as well as be more visible for increased interactions with investors; and finally, to attract key talents,” said Co-Founder and President Hortense Dodo, Ph.D.
IngateyGen LLC is now located in the First Flight Venture Center, an RTP-based non-profit that supports the development and growth of high science, high impact entrepreneurial companies. The incubator facility can house 30 to 40 early-stage companies at any one time, with many of them graduating from First Flight in three to five years, as they move closer to commercialization.
Just two weeks after the move, Dodo received the opportunity to pitch to Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, who is the U.S. representative for North Carolina’s 4th District and member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
“Foushee’s district includes Durham and RTP, where First Flight is located,” said Dodo. “This was a wonderful first opportunity to make our presence known at the First Flight Venture Center and to emphasize the importance of non-diluted funding — which allows startups to retain full ownership of their company — to our freshman representative.”
IngateyGen also had a recent visit from Congressman Wiley Nickel, U.S. representative for N.C.’s 13th District and member of the House Committee on Financial Services. Dodo had a chance to share the company’s technology and mission with the congressman and once again emphasize the importance of non-dilutive funding.
Forging ahead with CRISPR
Dodo was also selected as the March speaker for the Center’s Itineraries Program, a monthly opportunity for members of the First Flight community and broader innovation ecosystem to learn about the work of early-stage science-focused companies and network.
During the presentation, Dodo summarized how IngateyGen plans to develop allergen-free peanuts that exhibit the same nutrition and yield as today’s commercially grown versions. The startup has already used RNA interference (RNAi) technology to create a gene edited peanut that reduces expression of the genes associated with the three most allergenic peanut proteins. These peanuts have been grown during three years of field trials and shown to have a reduction in major allergens while exhibiting enhanced flavor without sacrificing nutrition.
The company is now working with CRISPR gene editing technology to remove, rather than silence, the allergen-related genes. Dodo and her team are also examining whether this technology could help solve other problems for the peanut industry. For example, they are exploring whether CRISPR could be used to create peanuts that don’t cause natural peanut butters to exhibit oil separation or to make peanuts that are more resistant to the naturally occurring fungi that produces poisonous aflatoxins.
Growing the team
At the end of 2022, IngateyGen received a $200,000 loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to expand its technical and human resources for scaling up production of gene-edited peanut lines. The relocation has helped the company use this funding to add two new scientists to its team.
Ahmed Elsayed, Ph.D., recently came on board as a post-doctoral research fellow. Elsayed has over 20 years of experience with plant biotechnology and molecular breeding research, with specialties in plant tissue culture and transformation, plant breeding and gene editing using CRISPR techniques.
“IngateyGen aims to use state-of-the-art research approaches while keeping the benefit to humanity in mind,” Elsayed said. “It has a stimulating environment and creative projects that are all crucially advantageous for research. I am excited to be part of their upcoming successes.”
IngateyGen has also hired Emily Brooks as lab manager. Brooks has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and a Master’s degree in Horticulture Science, both from NC State University. Although this is her first industry position, Brooks has molecular plant experience with soybean, arabidopsis, tomato, sweet potato, tobacco and more.
“I was drawn to IngateyGen because here I have the opportunity to pursue projects that not only improve plant quality with molecular techniques but that will also improve the lives of many people,” said Brooks. “I am excited to be a part of this work.”
(C) N.C. Biotech Cener