Avalo, a startup based in Durham, North Carolina, is addressing the challenges posed by climate change by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the field of crop breeding. Rather than relying on conventional practices such as genetic editing or traditional breeding techniques, it is employing advanced machine learning models to rapidly pinpoint the genetic foundations of intricate traits such as heat tolerance within crops.
CEO Brendan Collins explained that the approach the new startup eliminates much of the guesswork and waiting involved in traditional crop breeding. “We actually don’t care about the plant expressing the [desired] trait in the field because we just genotype all the seedlings, and we know which ones are going to be the winners and which ones are going to be the losers already,” Collins said.
Avalo’s process involves bringing seedlings into growth chambers and greenhouses, allowing for up to “four development cycles” in a single year, compared to the usual one. This significantly speeds up the breeding process.
The startup, which initially secured a $3 million seed round and has since raised another $3 million, is now gearing up for a $10 million Series A funding round this fall. Avalo has already demonstrated its capabilities by creating a fast-maturing broccoli variety for a vertical-farming startup called Iron Ox.
Apart from broccoli, Avalo is working on various other projects including the cultivation of latex-producing dandelions, identifying valuable traits like pest-resistance in soy and corn and launching an effort to develop drought-tolerant cotton.
Avalo’s vision extends beyond individual crops. Collins envisions the company as one that will democratize access to advanced genomics for agriculture. “What could agriculture look like if we’re able to give that same level of resources for a fraction of the cost to all the other crops in the world?” he added.