Solving Agriculture’s Biggest Challenges: The Vision of TurnKey Genomics and Founder Chris Grainger

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Genomics holds the key to addressing several agricultural challenges. It is the application of genetic technologies to study and genetically enhance the DNA of crops and livestock to increase agricultural productivity, sustainability and resilience to problems associated with climate change.

Founder and CEO of TurnKey Genomics Inc., Chris Grainger distinguishes himself by delivering comprehensive genomic solutions for the agri-food industry. Grainger is a seasoned expert with a background deeply rooted in molecular biology, plant breeding and genetics. TurnKey Genomics Inc. specializes in building partnerships with seed companies and crop service organizations to address the primary challenges faced by their industry.

The challenges are multifaceted, from pest and disease management to the large-scale and ever-evolving impact of climate change. Farmers are grappling with resource scarcity, including limited water and arable land, which necessitates genetic diversity in crops that are resilient against environmental changes.

TurnKey Genomics addresses these challenges through innovative technologies and solutions aimed at enhancing the resilience, efficiency and sustainability of agricultural practices. Grainger explains, “The agri-food industry really begins at the seed industry and breeding numerous crop varieties and crop types. Any technology that helps reduce both the time and the cost is greatly valued. And that’s what TurnKey’s molecular tools/genomic technologies help  seed companies do.”

He adds, “The other side of that coin is how do we breed for better crop resiliency with the effects of climate change? So, it’s not just a matter of extreme weather events, but it’s also the changing of our growing environments, which will allow new pests and pathogens to emerge. So having the genes and the traits available to deal with these new stresses will be critically important as we try to meet food production demands for a growing population.”

Chris Grainger’s journey to TurnKey

 

Chris Grainger’s scientific journey began early. “I was always into science. I can say it’s kind of come full circle. When I was just a teenager, I grew up in a fairly rural area of Ontario, and really, one of the only jobs you’re able to do is with some of these breeding companies. So, my first job at 14 was with Pioneer Hybrid Seeds out in the fields, doing some of the grunt work. In high school, I got a taste of genetics and the idea of DNA forensics. Originally, that is what got me excited about the technology.”

He attended the University of Guelph, a leading agri-food university in Canada. He spent over two decades developing and applying genomic technologies. His passion is bridging the gap between theoretical concepts and practical applications in agriculture. “My background is in both molecular biology and also plant breeding and genetics. TurnKey allows me to combine the best of both worlds and develop the right tools and technologies to breed new crops.”

At the University, many different sectors were opened up to Grainger. “You can use these technologies in a really applied way to help society, and that is what got me interested and excited about the industry. Within the plant breeding or crop development space, we not only develop these technologies but there’s an opportunity to apply them to impact society. That’s really enjoyable.”

Grainger’s experiences also include years of research as a scientist and laboratory manager at the Canadian Center for DNA Barcoding, the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, and the Department of Plant Agriculture.

The inspiration and evolution of TurnKey Genomics

 

Grainger’s earlier venture, Harvest Genomics, set the stage for TurnKey Genomics. He co-founded the start-up in 2019, but then the global pandemic struck in 2020. While disruptive, the pandemic was pivotal for genetic and molecular testing.

He explains, “It was a watershed moment; genetic or molecular testing went mainstream. I was able to leverage concepts within human healthcare and extend them to agriculture.” For Grainger and the world, it propelled the genomic conversation with farmers, growers and researchers interested in this technology and how it’s applied.

“The pandemic was a bit of an “aha” moment for this technology,” Grainger explains. “Everybody can speak the language now.” He adds, “They understand the ‘a variant of concern, a rapid PCR test,’ all those terms. Also, the increased testing infrastructure developed during the COVID-19 pandemic enhanced Canada’s testing capabilities. This expanded capacity has led healthcare companies to explore other applications for their technology and equipment beyond COVID testing. For TurnKey Genomics, it means our partners can operate very efficiently by utilizing the surplus testing infrastructure for various purposes, including genetic testing services, and I’m not having to invest in heavy capital infrastructure.”

Grainger and TurnKey tackle a competitive market

Navigating the highly competitive agri-food market has presented the biggest challenge for Grainger. “This is a massive market just within North America and Europe. The seed industry is expected to grow from $60 billion to $107 billion from 2021 to 2030. So it’s a monster of a market. There are huge, big players in this space. It’s very important to know who not to compete against sometimes as much as where you find your value in that space to be successful. That’s been the biggest challenge. Now we really understand both the nature of primary agriculture and where we fit.”

Grainger adds, “I would love to charge $200 for a PCR test like healthcare companies do for Covid, but no one would ever pay that much in agriculture. It’s understanding that their margins aren’t healthcare margins and making sure that I price our technology correctly for the most significant amount of uptake.“

To further tackle market challenges, TurnKey Genomics adopts a dual-sided approach, addressing both crop development and crop protection. “Farmers lose millions of dollars every year to herbicide-resistant weeds. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem. So we have products and technologies that can help identify herbicide-resistant weeds early on. Then, chemical companies and crop advisory businesses can use this data and this information to help farmers and growers adjust their management practices to help protect their crops as well.”

Grainger’s TurnKey Genomics is right on time. “ Everything’s happening in a fairly condensed window. I’ve been in this space for almost 20 years, so knowing it already makes it less challenging and scary.” From the academic maturation of concepts to practical applications, TurnKey Genomics is making significant strides in addressing challenges faced by the agriculture industry. Grainger’s vast experience, commitment to partnerships and operational efficiency position him and TurnKey as a driving force in the future of sustainable agriculture.

Explore TurnKey Genomics Inc.’s full-service genomic solutions.

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