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US (MO): Edison Agrosciences to invest in sunflowers

David Woodburn, CEO of St. Louis-based agtech startup Edison Agrosciences, vividly remembers the first time he saw a commercial sunflower field. It was years ago, during a road trip through South Dakota, and he recalls being struck by the flowers set against a bright blue sky. Yet despite how memorable the experience was, it would be many years before he’d come to understand the plant’s full power — one that is poised to solve one of the most vexing problems in the U.S. supply chain.

“There are over 2,000 plants that naturally produce rubber, and sunflowers are one of them,” Woodburn says. “If we could just make them produce a little more natural rubber, we could leverage what we already have in place so they would be a commercially viable domestic source.”

Like Woodburn, Matt Crisp and Thomas Hohn have been in awe of the sunflower for many years — pretty much from the moment they learned of the plant’s potential as a game-changing resource. In 2013, the pair co-founded Edison Agrosciences with the goal of using biotechnology and plant genomics to increase the natural rubber that the sunflower already produces, hoping that this increased yield would lead to a commercially viable solution for a problem that has plagued the domestic supply chain for as long as rubber became an important commodity.

As Crisp explains, this is something that’s been on the minds of inventors all the way back to Thomas Edison (hence the company’s name), who began working on the project for Henry Ford. Ford was looking for a domestic source of natural rubber for his namesake automobile company, hoping to secure the product for his vehicles’ tires so that he didn’t have to rely on foreign producers, something that he felt placed the automobile industry in a vulnerable position with regard to supply chain disruptions and shifting geopolitical conditions.


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